Handel - Tamerlano / Jonathan Miller, Trevor Pinnock - Bacelli, Randle, Pushee, Norberg-Schulz, Bonitatibus, Abete - Händelfestspiele Halle 2001
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An Opera in Three Acts
Libretto by AGOSTINO PIOVENE
Text Version NICCOLÒ FRANCESCO HAYM
Tamerlano: MONICA BACELLI
Bajazet: THOMAS RANDLE
Andronico: GRAHAM PUSHEE
Irene: ANNA BONITATIBUS
Asteria: ELISABETH NORBERG-SCHULZ
Leone: ANTONIO ABETE
The Tatar ruler Tamerlano (historically Timur-lenk), a descendant of Genghis Khan, defeated and captured the Turkish Sultan Bajazet at the battle of Angora in 1402. A series of plays and operas have been written to mark this historical event. In Handel's opera, although Tamerlano is already engaged to the Princess von Trapezunt, he falls in love with Bajazet's daughter. She, however, is fond of the Greek Prince Andronico. The story, which takes place in Prusa, the capital of Bithynia, begins directly after Bajazet and Asteria have been captured.
THE ENGLISH CONCERT
Conducted by TREVOR PINNOCK
Director JONATHAN MILLER
Costume JUDY LEVIN
Directed for TV by HELGA DUBNYICSEK
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Trevor PInnock is a seasoned Handelian and wonderful musician. He conducts this production with great stylistic conviction and good dramatic thrust.
The singers are generally very fine, with a few standouts such as Thomas Randle's Bajazet and Anna Bonitatibus's Irene.
Randle, with a full tenor voice best suited to this role, sings in good baroque style, some thing the likes of Pacido Domingo cannot grasp despite armed with full and might vocal capacity. Bajazet is hardly a easy role, and on video at least, Randle's portrayal stands to be surpassed.
As the relatively minor role of Irene, mezzo-soprano Anna Bonitatibus was at the onset of an illustrious operatic career. Her singing is upstaging, with a luxuriant mezzo-soprano timbre, especially when the Asteria Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz is not fully comparable in terms of vocal colour, but she is dramatically capable nonetheless.
As the Greek general Adronicus, Australian countertenor Pushee is dramatically convincing and vocally capable, but the voice requires projection aid, as is the case with mezzo-soprano Monica Bocelli in the title role of Tamerlano.
It begs the question as to who are the singers using body-microphones, for in view of a small theatre as this one, I wonder the likes of Bonitatibus and Randle would require such, and similarly for the soprano role of Norberg-Schulz.
Whatever the reason for resorting to this, I do find some projection problem with Graham Pushee, while Monica Bacelli may have resorted to it for the sheer sake of making the role sound 'bigger'.
Tamerlano is certainly not an easy role to sing. Bacelli is passable, owning good technique and a good low register, but still barely adequate to carry forth the nastiness of this role. She is burdened by a weak dramatic portrayal, being slight of built and tender in years.
There is very few good recordings (let alone videos) of Handel's masterpiece Tamerlano. This one still ranks in front, with a younger Bacelli than the one more than a decade later in Liceu.
Well, it is high time that a new video of this be produced, especially when we have now a strong countertenor line up in the baroque operatic field.
First, the opera itself. "Tamerlano" is one of a trio of "heroic" operas that Georg Handel wrote in the mid-1720's in London. The others are "Giulio Cesare" and "Rodelinda." All three are masterpieces and were successful at the time. In recent years, as the Handel revival keeps getting more steam, they are staged more frequently- and available on dvd.
Tamerlano is the vindictive triumphant conqueror over the noble Bajazet in the 1400's (which is based on historical events). Tamerlano seeks to marry Bajazet's beautiful daughter Asteria (who loves and is loved by King Andronicus of Greece- a supporter of Tamerlano). Tamerlano is betrothed to Princess Irene (whom he has never met.) Proud and heroic Bajazet strongly opposes Asteria's marriage to Tamerlano, and prefers a noble death for both of them, rather than bow down to the dictates ov the evil victor, Tamerlano. During this dark drama, Asteria tries to kill Tamerlano twice. In the end Bajazet, who has taken poison off-stage, has a significant death scene on-stage to foil Tamerlano's vengeance. In the usual opera seria conclusion, Tamerlano agrees to marry Irene, let Asteria marry Andronicus, and the final chorus sings a happy end, even while the music itself sounds quite melancholy.
This death scene was quite revolutionary in Baroque opera (even though the actual death, in BOTH productions) occurs off-stage. In fact, the whole "tinta" of the piece is quite dark and somber- making for a very effective drama.
Now for the video itself- This one is performed at the 50th anniversary of the Handel Festival in Halle, Germany in 2001. The performance takes place in the tiny Goethe theater, which has a VERY small stage (with the visible footlights in front and in the wings). The performance is with period instruments, led by Trevor Pinnock, a Baroque specialist, and is directed by the venerable Jonathan Miller. There is a very minimal set- just a set of screens in the back in gold and black. (Since the entire opera takes place within Tamerlano's castle, this works quite well.) The costumes are extremely colorful, and set in the Ottoman empire at that time.
As was usually the case in Handel's operas, two of the key roles (Tamerlano and Andronicus) were written for castratos- men with soprano voices. Here, Tamerlano is sung by Monica Bacelli (who ALSO sings that role in the other dvd), and Andronicus is sung buy a counter-tenor, Graham Pushee. (In the other production, the role is sung by a mezzo soprano). Unusual for Baroque opera, the key role of Bajazet is a tenor role (hard to come by in the 1700's), here sung by Thomas Randle. Asteria is performed by the gorgeous Elizabeth Norbert-Schultz.
The performances are all excellent and convincing to the drama. Norbert-Schultz is quite moving as Asteria, with a beautiful voice, and Pushee is as well as Andronicus. (I prefer a countertenor to a mezzo in the role, and he is just fine.) In short, the actual performance is excellent and musically terrific.
Now for some technical matters. The filming is fine, understanding that with such a small theater and stage, that the confinements does show a little on the video, like the front and side stage lights- but to no ill effects. The sound is excellent- but no DTS system. The English subtitles are all correct (no mis-spellings, etc), BUT they appear too often. Every repeat has the subtitles below- which is unnecessary. (To my mind, the best subtitles should be the least- while still translating all the words).
There are quite a few extras on the discs, which are a nice bonus. There is a good documentary on the performance- mostly concentrating on the Handel festival itself, but with some illuminating remarks by Pinnock and Miller. Also, there are numerous clips from the 50 year history of the festival, which is pretty cool. One terrific bonus, is that you can display the score on the bottom of the screen, while the performance is playing!! Fascinating if you like that thing, and one that I have never seen on dvd before.
After much consideration between the two available dvd's, I think I prefer this one- with the VERY notable exception that Placido Domingo, who plays Bajazet in the Madrid performance, is terrific and not to be missed.
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