~HWV 39~

Vox Music Group VOX3 7536
3 CDs
full price
(Recorded in 1996)

Faramondo: D'Anna Fortunato
Julianne Baird
Drew Minter
Jennifer Lane
Mary Elen Callahan
Peter Castaldi
Lorie Gratis
Mark Singer

Brewer Chamber Orchestra (on period instruments)
Conductor: Rudolph Palmer


Faramondo was composed in late 1737 after the end of Handelís Covent Garden period, and after severe health problems which forced him away from the public life for months. We can consider Faramondo as the first of Handelís last Italian operas. The original libretto - composed in 1698 for Carlo Francesco Pollarolo - is by Apostolo Zeno. Handel uses an anonymous adaptation - 700 of the 1400 verses are cut - from the version used by Francesco Gasparini in 1720. Zeno was Metastastio's predecessor as court poet in Vienna, but considered himself a historian rather than a librettist. Thus one of his influences with the appearance of opera seria at the end of the 17th century and beginning of the 18th century is the preference for historical subjects. Pharamond - or Faramond - is now considered a legendary character who lived in the 5th century, but in that time he was thought of as the first King of France.

The story represents numerous love and warlike relationships : Faramondo is at war against Gustavo and has already killed one of his sons. Gustavo has two other children, Adolfo, loved by and in love with Clotilde - Faramondoís sister - and Rosimonda, loved by and in love with Faramondo. The drama is built on the fact that Gustavo and his children swore to avenge their son/brother and that both Gustavo and Gernando - a third king first allied to Faramondo - fall in love with Clotilde. The conflict between love and duty, particularly fundamental in opera seria, is thus very strong for several of the characters. Faramondo was composed and first performed before the famous Serse and for the same cast, with the castrato Caffarelli singing the main parts in both of them. It is an opera in which the combination of love and a particularly exacerbated heroism offer very strong dramatic potential. Handel totally accepts this heroism, and it is not the kind of score which offers beautiful lamenti but rather is a hymn to heroism and love as idealised vision of life. The contrasts are really efficient thanks to both a fine musical setting that is sometimes demonstrative yet never artificial, and the effect of a totally underestimated libretto.

As is often the case in recordings of Handel operas produced by John Ostendorf, there are several unfortunate cuts - quite important in the recitatives in this work - but the singers are totally involved in their parts and definitely try to express something with both music and text, even if not always vocally at ease. Bass Peter Castaldi sings many low notes an octave higher, Drew Minter is not at ease in high notes but very convincing as the villain, and DíAnna Fortunato - the main weak point of this cast - offers a dry voice and mediocre technique to the main part. Mary Ellen Callahanís light voice fits well the character of the young Adolfo and Jennifer Lane offers the best performance of the cast as Rosimonda. Julianne Bairdís singing is quite representative of the recording as a whole: although not always accurate, particularly in high notes, the result is often charming and pleasant to listen to. It is interesting to note that in the duet Clotilde/Adolfo in act III they have inverted the parts; thus J. Baird sings the second one. Most of the parts ask for long voices with a wide range and strong technique, but we can be grateful that the performers believe in both music and text enough to partially enable the listeners to perceive the potential of the work (since Handel's performances in 1738 it has only ever been staged twice: at Halle in 1976 and at Reading University in 1981). The inclusion of movements from the concerto grosso op.6 nį.4 at the beginning of the last two acts (two movements before act II and two movements before act III) is regrettable: each act already has its own sinfonia, and although the concerto movements fit quite well musically, they do not fit the dramatic mood.

© Philippe Gelinaud - January  2002

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