This year, the London Handel Festival’s annual opera is a great rarity: Faramondo, which had eight performances in 1738 and then disappeared until the 20th century. The plot is often written off as indecipherable, but William Relton’s staging maintains interest and dramatic momentum.
Faramondo was the legendary first king of the Franks, but since the earliest historical mention of him comes several centuries after he supposedly lived, the evidence that he ever existed is pretty meagre. The opera’s plot, consequently, is pure fiction. Placing the action, as Relton and designer Cordelia Chisholm do, in a West Side Story-like environment of gangs and nightclubs seems as good a way of dealing with it as applying a kind of faux-medievalism.
Like most of Handel’s operas, Faramondo tells a complex tale of dynastic feuds and generational conflicts, with most of the characters in love with the wrong person right up to the denouement, when matters are – as far as possible – put to rights.
In Relton and Chisholm’s visualisation, this is the era of teddy boys and switchblades, with Kieran Rayner’s tough guy Gustavo the competitive owner of the club where Beth Moxon’s suave Rosimonda is the torch singer; but Gustavo also has his gang, opposed by those of rival hard men Gernando and Faramondo.
Relton helps the cast achieve dramatic performances as well defined as the related vocal offerings. Moxon puts her arias over with the panache of a cabaret star. A magnetic stage performer, Swedish mezzo Ida Ranzlov makes an outstandingly assured Faramondo.
Countertenor Timothy Morgan enjoys Gernando’s villainy and demonstrates serious vocal potential. Harriet Eyley is spirited as Faramondo’s sister, Clotilde. Josephine Goddard’s measured Adolfo, Harry Thatcher’s dangerous Teobaldo and Lauren Morris’s skilful Childerico complete the central casting, while Handel expert Laurence Cummings presides over a stylish orchestral performance.