FARAMONDO (HWV 39)
Libretto: Unknown, after Apostolo Zeno, 1720
First performance: 3rd January 1738, King's Theare, London
- Gaetano Majorano, called "Caffarelli" (Soprano-castrato)
- Elisabeth Duparc, called "La Francesina" (Soprano)
- Maria Antonia Marchesini, called "La Lucchesina" (Alto)
- Antonio Montagnana (Bass)
- Margherita Chimenti, called "La Droghierina" (Soprano)
- Antonia Maria Merighi (Contralto)
- Antonio Lottini (Bass)
- William Savage (Boy soprano)
Before an altar in a cyprus grove Gustavo, King of the Cimbrians, performs a solemn sacrifice, swearing eternal war upon Faramondo, King of the Franks, who has killed Gustavo’s son Sveno in battle. Whoever brings Faramondo’s head to Gustavo shall be rewarded with his daughter Rosimonda in marriage, and the throne of Cimbria.
Gustavo’s general Teobaldo brings forward Clotilde, Faramondo’s sister, who has been taken captive. As Faramondo’s blood relative she is condemned to death, yet on seeing her Gustavo hesitates, overcome with a sudden passion, and orders her release. Gustavo’s surviving son Adolfo is in love with Clotilde and promises to prove his devotion by defending her brother rather than, as he has sworn to do, seeking his death.
In the royal palace Childerico defends Rosimonda against Faramondo’s invading forces. Faramondo calls a halt to the fighting and introduces himself to Rosimonda. Though she is struck by his appearance she attacks him as her brother’s murderer. Faramondo is equally attracted and offers his life in reparation for Sveno’s death, which she refuses, preferring to exact her own revenge.
Faramondo’s friend and ally Gernando, King of the Swabians, thanks Faramondo that, in defeating Gustavo, he has won Rosimonda to be his bride. A pensive Faramondo tells Gernando that he must now win Rosimonda’s heart, and admits that he has himself fallen in love with her. Alone, Gernando determines to win Rosimonda’s love and free himself of his new rival by having Faramondo killed, and tells Rosimonda that this has indeed happened. Rosimonda spurns his offer, and a moment later is relieved to see Faramondo appear alive and well, having just captured Gustavo’s palace. He forgives Gernando and offers to return her freedom to Rosimonda and the kingdom to Gustavo; he then offers himself to Rosimonda, but she is tied by her oath and reluctantly refuses his love. Faramondo leaves her, promising to return only to die at her feet. She remains confused and distressed.
In the Cimbrian camp Gustavo declares his love for Clotilde, but she angrily rejects him. Teobaldo reports that Faramondo has come from the city walls alone and unarmed, and Gustavo prepares an ambush. Fearing treachery, Clotilde again asks Adolfo to defend her brother; thus when Gustavo raises his sword against Faramondo Adolfo is at hand to step between them; Faramondo’s soldiers appear and Gustavo finds himself trapped. Faramondo again generously offers Gustavo his kingdom and Rosimonda her freedom, but Gustavo furiously rejects him, and exiles Adolfo for his disloyalty. Aware that his hopes of success are slim, Faramondo now dismisses his soldiers and plans to return alone to see Rosimonda.
Gernando approaches his old enemy Gustavo and proposes a truce, suggesting that they combine forces to destroy Faramondo. Gustavo offers him Rosimonda as the reward for Faramondo’s head, but alone with Gernando she is outraged and demands his head too. Faramondo now places his life in danger by returning to the enemy camp to see Rosimonda. He hides as she approaches and so overhears her confess to Clotilde her mixed feelings towards him. He steps forward and offers to die at her feet, but though increasingly anxious to save him she still cannot forget her oath: Faramondo must die, though she prevents Teobaldo from killing him immediately and places him under Childerico’s guard in her apartments. Clotilde undertakes to ask Gustavo for clemency.
Adolfo learns that Faramondo has been captured and is to be executed; risking his father’s displeasure he approaches Gustavo and asks him to be merciful. Gustavo’s response is to have Adolfo arrested and taken away under guard. Clotilde now arrives to appeal to Gustavo on behalf of both her brother and her lover and he agrees to reprieve Adolfo, though not Faramondo, if she will marry him. Disgusted by his tyranny she tells Gustavo to go ahead and kill his own son.
In Rosimonda’s apartments Gernando attempts unsuccessfully to gain access to Faramondo. Rosimonda now asks Childerico to bring Faramondo forth. She returns his sword to him and reminds him that he was not fairly captured in battle, but voluntarily put himself in danger through his love for her. Her honour demands that she help him escape and save himself; however, she also offers him some hope that she responds to his love.
Gustavo is furious with his children, Adolfo for intervening to save Faramondo’s life, Rosimonda for now freeing him from captivity. Reliquishing any residul affection for either Adolfo or Clotilde Gustavo condemns them both and they resolve to face death together.
At a short distance from Faramondo’s camp the treacherous Gernando, overheard by Faramondo, plans to abduct Rosimonda and encourages Teobaldo to join him in seizing Gustavo. [Teobaldo then delivers to Faramondo a letter from Gustavo threatening dire consequences unless he voluntarily returns to captivity.] Faramondo agress to return to Gustavo’s camp, though with a plan of his own, and summons his soldiers to accompany him, restraining his fury at Gustavo’s tyranny with the thought that he is yet the father of his beloved Rosimonda.
Teobaldo returns to tell Gustavo that Faramondo has agreed to come. Adolfo has been freed from his imprisonment and reports that Gernando’s forces have seized Rosimonda; he offers to go in place of his father to resuce her. However, as he leave’s with Gustavo’s soldiers the Swabian forces enter by a different door and take the now unprotected Gustavo prisoner. Teobaldo disarms and seizes his own king, and is about to put him in chains when Faramondo arrives in armour, his visor down, followed by Adolfo with Gustavo’s forces. [The Swabian soldiers flee, leaving Teobaldo isolated;] and he is in turn seized and fettered by Faramondo’s men. Faramondo, his face still hidden, restores Gustavo’s sword to him and Gustavo embraces his unknown saviour, but is then appalled to discover that it is his mortal enemy Faramondo. Faramondo’s willingness to die, and his generosity in risking his own life to save his enemy, at last persuade Gustavo to set aside his old hatred; yet he cannot forswear his oath; Faramondo must still die, and Rosimonda, whom Faramondo has also freed from Gernando’s grasp, finally admits to her love and offers to die with him. Gernando is brought in under guard. Faramondo asks Gustavo to bless the marriage of Adolfo and Clotilde and begs Gernando’s pardon for having offended him by his love for Rosimonda. Gernando, too late, realises what a generous friend he has lost in Faramondo. Faramondo is led off to execution, but Adolfo and Clotilde, left alone together, have a sense that fortune may change.
In an amphitheatre in the Cimbrian camp Gustavo calls upon the goddess of revenge for strength to carry out the execution and raises his sword to decapitate Faramondo. At this crucial moment he receives a letter from Teobaldo, now on his deathbed in Sarmazia: Sveno was not, after all, Gustavo’s son, so Faramondo is innocent of any crime against Gustavo’s family. [Teobaldo’s letter reveals that he was Sveno’s father, having exchanged Gustavo’s infant son for his own; the Sveno whom Faramondo killed was thus Teobaldo’s son, and Gustavo’s lost son is revealed as Childerico.
Rosimonda, who arrives expecting to die, is instead offered to Faramondo, who celebrates the triumph of noble generosity over hatred.
(c) Virgin Classics
Handel’s visit to Aix la Chapelle in October 1737, to take the waters and recover from the atatcks that had plagued him recently, was a complete success. His first biographer Mainwaring tells of his rapid recovery:
‘His sweats were profuse beyond what can well be imagined. His cure, from the manner as well as from the quickness, with which it was wrought, passed with the Nuns for a Miracle. When, but a few hours from his time of quitting the bath, they heard him at the organ in the principal church as well as convent, playing in a manner so much beyond any they had ever been used to, such a conclusion in such persons was natural enough.’
Almost as soon as he returned to London he set to work again on preparing new works for the next season. He began Faramondo on Tuesday 15th November 1737, and completed the draft of Acts I and II on 4th December ‘Sunday evening, about 10 o’clock’ according to his specific notation in the autograph score.
At this point in the composition process he paused to write another new work – a funeral anthem to commemorate the death on 20th November of Queen Caroline. Handel conducted this new anthem, ‘The Ways of Zion Do Mourn’ at the Queen’s funeral on 17th December in Westminster Abbey. ‘After the service there was a long anthem’, the Bishop of Chichester wrote to his son, ‘the words by the Sub-dean, and music set by Mr. Handel, and it is reckoned to be as good a piece as he ever made: it was about fifty minutes in singing.’
Handel completed the score of Faramondo on Christmas Eve, 24th December 1737. Two days later, with just Christmas Day in between, he began work on the score of Serse.
As a mark of respect the theatres were closed after the death of Queen Caroline, and for the Christmas period. Handel now returned to the King’s Theatre in Haymarket, and apparently in triumph, with the first performance of Faramondo on 3rd January 1738. ‘Last night the new opera of ‘Faramondo’ was perform’d at the King’s Theatre to a splendid Audience, and met with general Applause’ reported the London Daily Post and Advertiser. ‘It being the first Time of Mr. Handel’s Appearance this Season, he was honour’d with extraordinary and repeated signs of Approbation.’ The opera ran for seven performances and there was a single revival on 16th May 1738.