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The Story of 'Faramondo'

Countertenor Max Emanuel sings the opera's title role, taken in its 1738 premiere by the superstar castrato Cafarelli.
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Countertenor Max Emanuel sings the opera's title role, taken in its 1738 premiere by the superstar castrato Cafarelli.

Faramondo is a legendary King of the Franks, and as his story demonstrates, he's a very benevolent sort of guy. Faramondo's lifelong rival is Gustavo, the leader of a tribe called the Cimbrians. The lead female characters are Clotilde, Faramondo's sister, and Gustavo's daughter Rosimonda.

As ACT ONE begins, we learn that Gustavo's son Sveno was killed in battle by Faramondo, and Gustavo has sworn a holy oath to see Faramondo dead. To achieve this, Gustavo offers his daughter Rosimonda as the reward for any man who brings him Faramondo's severed head.

Gustavo also has a trump card: He has captured Faramondo's sister Clotilde. At first, Gustavo plans to have her executed. Then he gets a look at her, and decides that he'd rather marry her instead.

But here comes the first of many complications. Gustavo has a living son, Adolfo. And like his father, Adolfo has fallen for Clotilde — so much so that he's promised her that he'll defy Gustavo and protect her brother, Faramondo.

Another problem involves Faramondo's love life. He's head-over-heels for Gustavo's daughter Rosimonda, who's being held in her palace by Faramondo's invading army. As it happens, she kind of likes Faramondo as well. But Rosimonda has sworn the same oath as her father: She wants Faramondo dead for killing her brother, Sveno.

Enter Gernando, leader of the Swabians. He's one of Faramondo's closest allies — but not for long, because Gernando is also in love with Rosimonda. He knows about Faramondo's feelings for her, but Gernando feels that his loyalty to Faramondo has earned him the first shot at winning Rosimonda over. Gernando even goes so far as to tell Rosimonda that he has killed Faramondo on her behalf.

Rosimonda is actually relieved when Faramondo shows up alive and well. Faramondo even offers Rosimonda her freedom, provided that she'll marry him. She refuses. Despite her feelings, she has sworn an oath to see Faramondo separated from his head.

Meanwhile, back at the Cimbrian camp, her father Gustavo is making his play for Faramondo's sister, Clotilde — and she turns him down cold. When the Cimbrian commander Teobaldo brings news that Faramondo is approaching their camp, alone and unarmed, Gustavo orders an ambush.

But there's a hitch. Remember Gustavo's son Adolfo? He promised Clotilde that he'd protect Faramondo, so Adolfo heads off his father's ambush. Faramondo's soldiers then join up with Adolfo's men, leaving Gustavo in a tough spot. But, characteristically, the good-natured Faramondo offers both Gustavo and Rosimonda their freedom — still hoping to marry Rosimonda. Gustavo rejects the offer, and exiles Adolfo for his betrayal.

Still, as the first act ends, Faramondo is determined to win Rosimonda's heart. He sends his army away, and decides to approach her again, alone, to profess his love — knowing that might get him killed.

As ACT TWO gets underway, Faramondo's ally Gernando has decided to switch sides. Like Faramondo, he still wants to marry Rosimonda. So he approaches Gustavo to see if they can't work together to defeat Faramondo. Gustavo makes his standard offer: Bring me Faramondo's head, and you can have Rosimonda in reward.

Gernando agrees, but then unwisely discusses this deal with Rosimonda. She's horrified, and suggests that Gernando should sacrifice his own head as well. Despite her vow to destroy Faramondo, Rosimonda is obviously falling for him.

That works out well for Faramondo, who soon puts his life on the line by coming to visit Rosimonda. He offers to die at Rosimonda's feet rather than live without her. She wavers, but then remembers her oath to see him dead. Still, when her Teobaldo shows up, ready to do the deed, Rosimonda orders him to stop. She then orders Teobaldo's son, Childerico, to take Faramondo away and keep him safe. Clotilde heads off to see Gustavo, and beg for lenience.

Adolfo, Gustavo's exiled son, shows up once more. He's still in love with Clotilde, but he's also looking to his father for mercy. Gustavo promptly has him locked up. Then, when Clotilde shows up asking Gustavo to free both Adolfo and Faramondo, Gustavo suggests a deal. He says Faramondo must die. But Gustavo also says that if Clotilde will marry him, he'll free Adolfo. Clotilde declares that if that's her only choice, he can go ahead and execute Faramondo — and Adolfo, Gustavo's own son.

For now, Faramondo is still safe, under Rosimonda's protection. She has Childerico bring Faramondo out from hiding, and gives him his sword. Because Faramondo came to her of his own accord, she says, and wasn't captured in battle, it wouldn't be right to kill him. Instead, she lets Faramondo go.

So, as ACT THREEbegins, Faramondo is free — but he still has problems. His former ally Gernando first joined forces with Gustavo, hoping to win Rosimonda's hand. That didn't work, so now Gernando conspires with Gustavo's commander, Teobaldo. They can work together, he says. With Teobaldo looking the other way, Gernando's men will seize Gustavo, and abduct Rosimonda.

Meanwhile, Faramondo receives a message from Gustavo, warning Faramondo that the only way to save himself is to surrender to Gustavo. Faramondo, cooperative as always, agrees to come to Gustavo's camp. But he does have a scheme of his own in the works.

Gustavo has released his son, Adolfo, who now reports that Gernando's men have captured Rosimonda. Gustavo orders Adolfo to take his men and bring her back. But when they leave, Gernando's soldiers sweep in and take Gustavo prisoner. Gustavo is about to be put in chains when Faramondo arrives with his army, and drives Gernando's off.

Faramondo is in full armor — with his visor down so nobody recognizes him. He releases Gustavo and returns his sword. At first, Gustavo is grateful. Then Faramondo raises his visor, and Gustavo is horrified to see that he's been rescued by a man he has sworn to kill.

Gustavo is gracious enough to thank Faramondo, and renounce his hatred for him. And Faramondo has done Gustavo another favor, by having his men free the captured Rosimonda. Still, Gustavo says, an oath is an oath, and Faramondo must die. Hearing that, Rosimonda finally admits her love for Faramondo, and offers to die with him.

In an amphitheater near his camp, Gustavo prays for the strength to fulfill his sworn duty. Faramondo has come to the chopping block, with Rosimonda to follow. But as Gustavo raises his sword to behead Faramondo, a messenger rushes in with a letter from Teobaldo.

In the letter, Teobaldo reveals a long concealed truth about Sveno, Gustavo's son who was killed by Faramondo. It turns out that Sveno wasn't really Gustavo's son at all. He was Teobaldo's boy. When Sveno was an infant, Teobaldo wanted him to grow up as an heir to Gustavo's throne, so he secretly swapped kids. It seems that Childerico, the young man Teobaldo brought up as his own, is actually the son of Gustavo.

Well, as they say, that changes everything. If the unfortunate Sveno wasn't really Gustavo's son, then the oath of vengeance is null and void. So when Rosimonda shows up for her execution, expecting Faramondo to be dead, she finds him alive and well. Gustavo has forgiven them both, and everyone praises the virtues of generosity. Whew.

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