Blog Archives

Il complicated mondo di Faramondo (Britten Hall RCM, 25 March 2017)

With Faramondo we visit a more or less fictional moment from the history of Franks (Faramondo et Co.), Cimbrians (Gustavo’s people) and Swabians (Gernando’s baddies).

Before we start, I’ll direct you to Leander‘s elaborate writeup (with pictures!). You should also know that we saw the second cast (as customary, RCM fields two different teams on alternative days).

Faramondo King of the Franks: Kamilla Dunstan
Clotilde his sister: Amy Manford
Gustavo King of the Cimbrians: Julien Van Mellaerts
Rosimonda his daughter: Ashlyn Tymms
Adolfo his older son: Louise Fuller
Gernando King of the Swabians: Tom Scott-Cowell
Teobaldo Cimbrian general: Timothy Edlin
Childerico the real Sveno, Gustavo’s younger son: Eleanor Sanderson-Nash

Conductor: Laurence Cummings | London Handel Orchestra

I learned from Leander that Serse and Faramondo were written about the same time in late winter 1737. Faramondo was first performed on 3 January 1738. We can admire his work ethic and (maybe) forgive him for choosing a very shaggy (albeit popular at the time) libretto, a true smorgasboard of Baroque cliches as follows:

  • star crossed lovers
  • duty/love anxiety
  • angsty arias about ships mercilessly tossed about by waves and winds
  • honourable enemies/noble savages in this production
  • backstabbers ahoy
  • lecherous but kind hearted king/vacillating person in power

super bonus:

  • babies swapped at birth

For our pleasure confusion, Handel used a revised version of the original Zeno libretto that had about half of the recits removed. Case in point: 2/3 in, this chap Childerico shows up and acts like he’d been there all along but I can assure you he hadn’t. There is a very good reason (by this revised libretto’s standards) he was shoe-horned in. If we check wiki we learn he was originally sung by boy wonder and Handel protege William Savage, the kid who (during his boy soprano period) sang Oberto in Alcina. He sang alto when his voice broke (here) and finally went on to create a few bass roles for Handel. Makes you think of an all rounder football player with Handel as a shrewed coach 😉

Also upon checking wiki we learn that aside from the “dad” figure, the customary bass and the title role which went to Cafarelli, the other men and women were sung by women, with a mezzo (Rosimonda) and contralto (Gernando1) thrown in. The nice variation of female voices is one of the strengths of this opera.

Then come the downsides.

The music is pleasant enough though it never gets as memorable as Serse or other Handel operas we know and love. The libretto… everybody wants Gustavo’s position, but Gernando also wants his daughter, who doesn’t want him. Faramondo and Rosimonda like each other a lot but duty/honour comes first for the both of them. Teobaldo secretly wants Gustavo’s throne and had also swapped the babies around (Childerico and Sveno).

The whole thing goes pear-shaped when Sveno (raised by an unsuspecting Gustavo as his son) is killed by… somebody, with Faramondo taking the blame for it. Gustavo has another son called Adolfo, who is of course in love with Faramondo’s sister Clotilde (they’re a very Annio-Servilia type couple). He uses his father’s love for him to stop him every time (about every 15min) Gustavo wants to kill Faramondo/his kin. Things get more complicated as Gustavo has the hots for Clotilde and justifies pursuing his son’s gf by such gems as “I’m the king, you’re my underling so you have to relinquish her to me”.

Somehow the voice of reason in all this is Clotilde, who has some choice arias (at least 2 about being tossed by waves and winds) and perhaps because of this develops a driking problem in this production and seems totally nonplussed by the very cynical ending (the hitherto noble Faramondo, friend to all, casually hacks all the baddies during his last aria (and with the help of Rosimondo, who hands him several weapons).

Likewise, the star of the show was Manford as Clotilde, who showed excellent command of coloratura, very fine Handel style and an ideal voice for this repertoire. If she likes it she should definitely pursue it. I would love to see her as Morgana, she has the comic timing and tone for that role. Her scenes were the most exciting, not just because her direction was the most logical and detailed but also because of her very promising dramatic chops. Her moves did come off as a bit studied – but enthusiastically so – yet you could see a natural actress developing, who stayed in character even when she wasn’t at the centre of the action. By the end she had the audience in stitches.

Dunstan (you may remember her as Ariodante from last year) once again cut a fine figure as the hero and put on a solid vocal performance, with some fine projection and elaborate fioriture, though I admit I prefer her sensitive Ariodante.

Ashlyn Tymms’s lounge singer Rosimonda was one of this production’s better ideas. Much as I enjoy updated productions, sometimes, when very specific historical moments as involved it’s not esay to get into the vision. The lounge singer heroine isn’t an original take but it has time and again proved at least efficient (especially if one enjoys ’40s noir). Dramatically Tymms was also one of the better performers in a production where Personnenregie was erratic at best.

On the one hand we had Clotilde and Rosimonda’s clearly developed personas, on the other we had a pretty loosely designed Faramondo, charicature baddies and unclear Gustavo (is he just an upright chap succumbing to temptation in regards to Clotilde or is he creepy?) with bonus dramatically useless cheesy hanger-ons who pretty much clogged the stage when their bosses’ arias were being sung.

Anyway, Rosimonda is the kind of strong Baroque woman angstily2 bound by duty with “heavy hearted” arias that need a fuller voice, hence the mezzo designation. For whatever reason Tymms sounded to me like a dramatic soprano in the making but maybe she’s a Stephanie Blythe type of mezzo.

Gernando, sung by Scott-Cowell (last year’s Polinesso), was, Leander and I guessed, a schemer messed up on drugs (he sniffs glue/helium during his revenge aria, which is kind of odd but hey3). Once again Scott-Cowell was plagued by a silly unidimesional directorial choice, so it’s hard to gauge his dramatic skills. I thought his singing was fine, a clear improvement over last year.

London Handel Orchestra under Cummings generally did a commendable job accomodating the students’ speeds.

Given it was a very pleasant day and also because it was my first time at RCM since I moved, I actually gave myself plenty of time to get there. No Lamborghini sightings, but I realised it’s not the Scientology Church across the street from The Science Museum but the Mormon Church. So now you know. Also: at (my) leisure pace, the walk from the South Ken tube station to Britten Hall is 10min long.


  1. Though I thought the inclusion a countertenor Gernando worked well. Perhaps a countertenor with a better defined bottom (hey! not that one) might’ve worked even better. 
  2. It’s not tragic if it ends well. 
  3. If we’re going for aggressivity-inducing drugs, wouldn’t meth be the immediate choice? Or is this too American? 

Good times at the opera in 2016

Cotroversial in everyday life and politics, 2016 was a good opera year for yours truly. I went to Vienna again and returned to Paris after two decades, lots of fun! London wasn’t too shabby either, with its mezzo/contralto traffic jams and my love affair with Wigmore Hall only intensified this year ❤ Last but not least, looking over the many shows that sign posted this year I had another opportunity to think about the fine people I shared some of these good times with. Thank you all and a much happier 2017!

January

11 Benjamin Appl | Wigmore Hall: a Schubert start to the year

February

20 L’Etoile | ROH: a bit of a weird romp, but a romp nonetheless (le romp francais). I hope whoever succeeds Holten at ROH sprinkles the seasons with wackiness of this sort.

March

4, 8 Akhnaten | ENO: X-Files meets Aida = most spectacular show of the year! Let’s keep ENO in business for more of the same.

12, 14 Ariodante | RCM Britten Hall: students go hardcore Highlands

14 Maria Ostroukhova | St George’s Hanover Sq: Cecca notte!

16 Ekaterina Siurina/Luis Gomes | Wigmore Hall: there is still Belcanto, lest we forgot about it

17 Berenice | St George’s Hanover Sq: hit and miss Handel

21 Boris Godunov | ROH: Terfel, the Welsh Boris(h)

23 Ann Hallenberg | Wigmore Hall: Il pianto di Maria

31 Elpidia | St George’s Hanover Sq: very good singing, so-so pasticcio

April

14 Lucia di Lammermoor | ROH: Damrau is no damsel in distress

27 Lucio Silla | Theater an der Wien: the Arnold Schoenberg Choir! with not that much to sing 😉

28 Il Vologeso | Cadogan Hall: proof that Jommelli rocks

30 Sandrine Piau | Wigmore Hall: super stylish Boroque with La Piau

May

08 Tannhauser | ROH: an opportunity to see Christian Gerhaher sing Wagner lyrically.

23 Ann Hallenberg | Wigmore Hall: 😀

26 Oedipe | ROH: almost as spectacular as Akhnaten

June

24 Werther | ROH: Pappano gets it

29 Sonia Prina | Wigmore Hall: the first of two shows this year; this is the feisty one.

July

02 Nathalie Stutzmann | Wigmore Hall: the smoothest contralto takes on Vivaldi

07 Il trovatore | ROH: Bosch brings his caravan to Verdi

17 JPYA | ROH: ROH students return

August

03 Bluebeard’s Castle | Proms/Royal Albert Hall: there are a few things I will always attend and this is one of them.

September

21 Demetrio (Hasse) | Cadogan Hall: musically not the most exciting

22 Cosi fan tutte | ROH: this one was a bit of a miss…

October

02 Nathalie Stutzmann/Orfeo 55 | Wigmore Hall: oh yea!

05 Anna Bonitatibus | Wigmore Hall: …and yea to Semiramide, too.

21 The Nose | ROH: between this and L’Etoile we covered Eastern and Western wackiness.

November

02 Juditha triumphans | Barbican: the mezzo/contralto fest of the year

05 Dorothea Roschmann | Wigmore Hall: dramatic Roschmann is here

07 Les contes d’Hoffmann | ROH: traditional tales of sexism (with mezzos)

13 Oreste (Handel) | Wilton’s Music Hall: the Atrides in Jack the Ripper’s neighbourhood

20 Luca Pisaroni | Wigmore Hall: Luca sings the Schubert

24 Stuart Jackson/Marcus Farnsworth | Wigmore Hall: more Schubert!

28 La Calisto | Wigmore Hall: Wigmore Hall goes kookoo-funny

30 La finta giardiniera | RCM Britten Hall: students being successfully silly

December

05 Don Giovanni | Theatre des Champs-Elysees: Don Leporello muses in the beautiful surroundings of TCE.

06 Sancta Susanna/Cavalleria rusticana | Opera Bastille: Sancta Susanna = the runner up in the badass production contest of the year

29 Sonia Prina/Roberta Invernizzi | Wigmore Hall: oh so quiet and gentle