OP2318. TAMERLANO (Handel), Live Performance 2001, w.Pinnock Cond. The English Concert; Bacelli, Randle, Norberg-Schulz, Pushee, Bonitatibus, Abete, etc. 3-Avie AV 0001, Boxed Set w.Elaborate 157pp. Libretto-brochure. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 822252000122
“What a strange, wondrous work this is! Dealing almost exclusively with emotions - paternal, filial, and romantic love, sacrifice, jealousy, hatred, spite - there is very little ‘action’ per se. But in Handel’s TAMERLANO we are smack in the middle of these people’s hearts and it’s more suspenseful and moving than operas with battles, great political themes, wind machines, and exotic dancers. In short, absolute ruler Tamerlano has conquered and taken the Turkish Emperor Bajazet captive. Despite his engagement to Irene, Tamerlano loves Bajazet’s daughter Asteria; Andronicus, his Greek ally, loves her too and Asteria returns Andronicus’ love. Although it appears as if Asteria also has accepted Tamerlano’s love (to the horror of Bajazet, Andronicus, and Irene), in fact she plans to kill him. She and her father are condemned to death when her plot is discovered, but Bajazet commits suicide and in a last minute change of heart, Tamerlano allows Andronicus and Asteria to wed, while he takes Irene as bride.
It was very daring indeed to have a character (just about) die on stage (Bajazet sort of crawls off, his final line trailing away); most heroes in Baroque opera died in the wings and their deaths were reported. But Bajazet is one of Handel’s great creations - probably the first ‘heroic’ tenor role ever composed - and his nobility remains with him to the very end and Handel wanted the audience to experience it. Asteria is complicated enough to fool those around her while she’s planning to murder the tyrant, and Tamerlano himself is a real stinker. Andronicus has a certain nobility as well, and even Irene, as the spurned bride, has real feelings and a valid role in the drama. There are more than two dozen arias and the scoring is light: while recorders, flutes, oboes, bassoons, and clarinets are used, they’re never played all at once.
This performance was taped live and the drama benefits from its theatrical venue despite applause after almost every big aria - some of it weirdly spotty and uncertain and all of it annoying. The cast is good: I would prefer a countertenor in the role of Tamerlano (sung by a castrato at the premiere), but that having been said, contralto Monica Bacelli does a fine job. Her powers of exclamation are ideal for Tamerlano’s sense of entitlement and nastiness, and she’s a very good technician, managing the difficult runs with ease and spitting out some low notes to great effect. Asteria is a determined little gal, and Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz portrays her well. I’ve never found her voice particularly distinctive and still don’t, but she’s good here, moving and strong-minded. Countertenor Graham Pushee’s voice may be a bit opaque for the Greek general Andronicus, but that’s my only complaint, and mezzo Anna Bonitatibus, a new voice to my ears, is very impressive as Irene, sounding occasionally like a young Tatiana Troyanos - no small compliment.
Tenor Tom Randle is one-of-a-kind: His well-thought-out Bajazet is not only aristocratic, defiant, and morally above reproach, but his voice sits perfectly in the lowish register for which the role is composed, and he’s as comfortable in tender, legato-driven moments as he is when he’s in a coloratura rage. Bass Antonio Abete, in the role of Leone, a friend of Tamerlano and Andronicus, is given a showpiece aria Handel wrote for a revival of the work, and he sings it brilliantly. All of the singers embellish their vocal lines, occasionally not quite in the manner Handel might have opted for. Trevor Pinnock leads his English Concert expertly; his pacing of arias and recitatives is nothing if not both natural and dramatically apt. This is not perfect - it suffers some of the vicissitudes of live performances - but it presents this opera better than any competition on CD, and probably as well as we’ll hear it any time soon.”
- Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com