Opera Reviews
25 February 2024
Untitled Document

A strong case for Faramondo in Göttingen's wacky production

by Catriona Graham
Handel: Faramondo
International Handel Festival Göttingen
31 May 2014

Photo: International Handel Festival G÷ttingenIt’s amazing that, after nearly a century of the Göttingen Handel Festival, there are still operas which are being performed there for the first time. This year it is Faramondo, a faradiddle of a storyline about fictional events in 5th century France, but with some glorious music. Paul Curran directs it as an everyday tale of oligarchic life – even non-Italian speakers will recognise the characters going on and on about ‘vendetta’ and ‘rival’. Think upmarket gangsters carving up the ‘hood in expensive style.

Anyway, it all happens in a very black-tie casino, with gorgeous red wallpaper and black woodwork. Crowded round the table are some very Beautiful People, playing a card game in which a De Niro-alike in white tux thinks he has won the dosh, only for another man to produce the winning card at the last minute. Drink having been taken, tempers flare. There is history – the winner is supposed to have killed De Niro’s son – so we have an idea that things are going to end badly.

This is confirmed when a young woman is cable-tied to the table, injected with some kind of sedative and De Niro – did I say he’s called Gustavo? - prepares to kill her. His son Adolfo intervenes, and rescues the woman, bringing her round. Whereas everyone else is in black and white, she is wearing that fashionable shade of beige/cream called ‘nude’. She’s called Clotilde, and is the sister of the cards-winner. He, Faramondo, takes the huff and, with his private ‘army’ all in black, be-helmeted and flak-jacketed, raids the casino, ending up in Gustavo’s daughter’s bedroom. Faramondo is well-impressed but that rather peeves his pal Gernando – Conchita Wurst in a fur coat and a definite thing about knickers – who rather fancies her himself.

Look, the only way I can explain the plot is to draw diagrams – there is one in the programme – so just live with it, okay?

Designer Gary McCann dresses the women glamorously. Their gladiator heels are changed for ankle cuffs and shoe-boots, and bling is shiny, sparkly cuffs – these women are as good as shackled. Anna Starushkevych (Rosimonda) has a lovely growl in her voice when she has a gun in her hand to point at Gernando (Christopher Lowrey), and does a good job of convincingly falling for Faramondo, while still struggling with the idea he killed her brother. Anna Devin is an outstanding Clotilde, her singing of ‘Combattuta da due venti’ particularly delicious. Eventually, they make up their differences and teeter on-stage together, holding hands like tiddly girls on a hen-night.

There’s a tender duet for Rosimonda and Faramondo, with Kate Clark sensitively accompanying her on flute and the rest of the Festspiel Orchester Göttingen accompanying him. They are sitting on the stairs to the basement plant room, he clearly wanting to touch her, she edging away. Then, after a thrilling trill on a high note, she suddenly grabs his hand. The second act blacks out just before the clinch.

Emily Fons is excellent as Faramondo – clearly a young man staking out his own territory against Gustavo. In the aria ‘Voglio che sia l’indegno’, a raised eyebrow – as it were an inverse wink – makes the audience complicit in his sentiments. Her voice has a young man’s lightness, while still conveying the intensity of his mixture of emotions. At times boyish, at others suggesting the future of his maturity, Fons’ performance explores fully the complexity of the character.

Devin’s duet with Maarten Engeltjes (Adolfo) ‘Caro / Cara’, as they face death hooded and cable-tied, is impassioned, though accepting their fate. Clotilde is bundled into a laundry trolley. She escapes in time to try to bring Rosimondo and her brother together. When Rosimondo, in the presence of Gustavo, sings ‘Sappi, crudele, io t’amo’, Faramondo looks gob-smacked. Well he might, since Gustavo (Njål Sparbo) still wants him to die.

Anyway, it all turns out for the best, as the dead man wasn’t Gustavo’s son after all, but the son of his henchman Teobaldo (Edward Grint); in fact, Childerico (Iryna Dziashko), who has been trying to sort things out for some time, is Gustavo’s son and Rosimondo’s brother, so everyone lives happily ... even though Rosimondo snatches back her suspender belt from Gernando, he still has another pair of her knickers to sniff.

There are so many details to note in this production. Kevin Treacy not only lights the casino and the basement, but also the eyes of the hounds bringing down a stag on the front drop. The Festspiel Orchester plays with a clarity and delicacy which brings the music to vibrant, vivid life. The singing of the young cast is controlled, precise and emotionally true.  Conductor Laurence Cummings and the rest of the team have argued well the worth of overcoming Faramondo’s  tortuous plot.

Text © Catriona Graham
Photo ©International Handel Festival Göttingen
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