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Quirky Brilliance: Handel's 'Faramondo'

The Lausanne production of <em>Faramondo</em> features the virtuosic period ensemble, I Barocchisti.
The Lausanne production of Faramondo features the virtuosic period ensemble, I Barocchisti.

It might seem a bit strange to be mentioning Faramondo, an obscure, 1738 opera by Handel, in the same sentence as Verdi's familiar blockbuster Il Trovatore, from 1853. But these two, quite different operas also have two key elements in common: confounding plotlines and transcendent music.

There's a widely-held notion that the stories in operas are so complicated and incoherent that only true devotees can really understand them. Opera lovers often counter that stereotype by calling it a simple case of unfamiliarity. Anyone can understand opera, they say, if only they'd give it a chance.

But as with many stereotypes, this one has a grain of truth to it. Il Trovatore opens with a lengthy monologue explaining its intricate back story — all the stuff that happened before the main story even begins — because without that back story, none of the subsequent action makes much sense. The same is true of Handel's opera.

As with Trovatore, the plot of Faramondo also depends on knowledge aforethought. You have to know what happened before the story starts to have any chance of understanding what happens later on. The two operas also have weirdly similar back stories: Both plotlines hinge on a long-ago, and highly unlikely switcheroo of now-deceased children.

But then there's the music. There are plenty of operas that leave listeners humming a tune when they're over. With these two, the question is, which tune? Verdi scarcely turned a note wrong in Trovatore, and Handel's score for Faramondo has so much great music, ranging from catchy melodies to profound lyricism, that it's tempting to overlook the story altogether.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents Faramondo in a performance from the Lausanne Opera, featuring a stellar cast showing off in a cascade of Handel's most explosive — and expressive — arias. Also on hand is the virtuosic, period ensemble I Barrochisti, led by conductor Diego Fasolis.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive

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