George Frideric Handel • Tamerlano
Opera in three acts, HWV 18
Text by Nicola Francesco Haym (1678–1729)
In Italian with German and English surtitles
Duration approx. 3 hours and 50 minutes.
Print programme (PDF)
Handel’s Tamerlano is our second Baroque opera. We have succeeded in engaging Plácido Domingo for the role of Bajazet. This will be his first performance with an original-sound ensemble, the Musiciens du Louvre, conducted by Marc Minkowski. The title role will be sung by one of the world’s leading countertenors, Bejun Mehta.
After the success of Giulio Cesare, the expectations of London’s audiences ran high: his next opera, Tamerlano, may have earned Handel less applause at its premiere in October 1724, but today it is considered among his most important. The subject took him far to the East: to the Mongolian conqueror Tamerlano, whose historic model, Timur, had created an empire in Central Asia that was as huge as it was short-lived; in 1402 he vanquished the Ottoman army under the command of Sultan Bayezid I with a fatal blow. Infamous for his unscrupulousness and brutality, Timur held an eery fascination for the West, although opinions on him were divided.
In Handel’s opera, the power struggle between the “Tartar” and the Sultan, his prisoner, continues on a private level. Tamerlano desires Bajazet’s daughter Asteria, but the military hero is unsuccessful in love – much as he may flatter, rage, threaten and intimidate her. In Bajazet, the raging tyrant is given the most interesting counterpart in the opera: a man who bears his ignominious situation with composure, pride and disdain. Handel wrote the role for Francesco Borosini, giving London audiences not only the first-ever tenor in a leading role, but also one of the most unusual and moving scenes in his operatic œuvre: Bajazet commits suicide, thus insisting on autonomy even at the cost of his own destruction, and triumphing over Tamerlano, whom he curses with his dying words. The large-scale, highly differentiated death-scene is the high point of the opera, the tragic ending everything leads up to, from the very beginning.