TRAGEDIA PER MUSICA IN THREE ACTS
Libretto by Agostino Piovene
When writing the pasticcio Il Tamerlano in 1735 for the Venice carnival, Antonio Vivaldi made use of a musical ruse: He gives the sultan Bajazet and the Ottomans his own arias in the Venetian style, while the “barbarians”, the Tartars led by Tamerlano, sing arias in the Neapolitan style of his younger rivals Johann Adolf Hasse, Riccardo Broschi and Geminiano Giacomelli. What Vivaldi intended as a dig at his rivals provides today’s listeners with unadulterated musical pleasure. And Ottavio Dantone, who has assembled a first-class ensemble for Il Tamerlano, provides a magnificent rendition of baroque music of every style with his Accademia Bizantina.
In Italian with German surtitles
Introduction to the work 30 minutes before the performance
Act I The Turkish king Bajazet is being held captive
in his own palace by the Tartar Tamerlano whose ambition it is to conquer the
whole world. Andronico, a Greek prince who was also defeated by Tamerlano but
entertains friendly relations with him, brings Bajazet the news that Tamerlano
has granted an amnesty that will allow the king to move freely again. Bajazet,
however, categorically refuses this act of mercy, as delighted as he would have
been to accept it from Andronico who is in love with his daughter Asteria. He
says he would rather die than receive this favour from Tamerlano. Andronico,
who is as fond of Bajazet as he is of Asteria, refuses to leave him his sword
as a way of committing suicide and reminds him of the depth of the paternal
love he has for Asteria. Overwhelmed by his feelings for his beloved daughter,
Bajazet hesitates – but in the end he sees no other way out of his dilemma, which
for him is truly a matter of life or death. Andronico is left in despair. He
unexpectedly encounters Tamerlano, who knows nothing about his feelings for
Asteria. Tamerlano reveals his intention to marry Asteria and asks Andronico to
intercede with Bajazet on his behalf. The reward for this service will be the
hand in marriage of Princess Irene of Trebizond, originally chosen by Tamerlano
as his own bride, and Andronico’s reinstatement as ruler of the Greek empire.
His wish, says Tamerlano, is to give Bajazet peace and liberty by marrying his
daughter. To help Bajazet, Andronico agrees to the proposition, hoping that
Asteria will guess his true intentions and avoid her impending fate by choosing
not to marry Tamerlano. Tamerlano confronts Asteria with his plans and gives
her the choice of either marrying him or sacrificing her father’s liberty to
her love of Andronico. Despite her unspeakable sorrow at the apparent betrayal
committed by the man she loves, she goes to Andronico to demand an explanation
for what he has done and so forces him to reveal all. However, the wheels have
been set in motion and Bajazet, who also believes he can speak for Asteria,
again declares that he would rather die than submit to Tamerlano. In the
meantime Irene, who has never actually met Tamerlano face to face, has arrived
at the palace where Andronico tells her about her original fiancé’s sudden
change of heart. He recommends his confidant Leone as her escort and persuades
her to disguise herself as her own messenger and win Tamerlano back.
Act I Andronico fears for Asteria, whose love is as precious to him as life itself. Irene manages to enter Tamerlano’s private chambers where she finds Asteria at the Tartar’s side. Angered by this rejection, she wants to eliminate her rival, but Asteria explains that neither power nor love is behind her desire to ascend the throne. In this way she wins Irene over. Leone, however, is sceptical about this new alliance, pointing out that love is capable of bringing peace, but also war. When Bajazet learns that his daughter is on the point of ascending the throne with Tamerlano he is furious and determines to do whatever it takes to prevent it. Andronico is also fuming inwardly at Asteria’s cruel decision, but explains that his hands are tied. However, Asteria is really only planning to ascend the throne because it will offer her an opportunity to kill Tamerlano – a plan that is abruptly thwarted when Bajazet stands in her way. Tamerlano, trying to play his rights as a husband off against those of the father, finally forces Bajazet to submit and commands Asteria to follow him onto the throne by stepping on her father’s neck, which Asteria refuses to do. Tamerlano has her arrested, but before she is led away she throws her dagger at his feet, openly declaring that he has only luck to thank for escaping an assassination. Thunderstruck, Tamerlano swears vengeance, but both Asteria and Bajazet are unmoved. The father, the lover and the rival all apologise to Asteria, deeply impressed by her courageous plan. For her part, the heroic Asteria yearns for nothing more than a life with the man she loves – away from all the power games and torment.
Act III At the same time, Asteria suspects that in the end she will lose both her father and her lover. In the meantime, Tamerlano has made her his slave and told Andronico, whom he now knows to be in love with Asteria, that he can take her if he still wants her as she is now. Andronico’s love for Asteria remains as strong as it ever was. In a brief moment when the two of them are alone they assure each other of their mutual passion although they know that death offers the only way out. In the meantime, Irene and Leone decide to drop their pretence. Leone decides to oppose Tamerlano with force to aid Andronico’s and Asteria’s happiness. But he does not get the chance. Instead it is Asteria who again takes the initiative: she gives Tamerlano a poisoned cup that her father gave her so she can kill herself. But as Tamerlano is about to drink from the cup, Irene uncovers the assassination attempt and reveals herself to be the princess of Trebizond. Tamerlano orders Asteria to give the cup to her father or her lover to test the contents. But when Asteria lifts the cup to her own lips, intending to sacrifice herself, she is stopped by Andronico. Faced with yet another betrayal, Tamerlano’s fury now knows no bounds: He orders Asteria to be given to the other slaves to be used as a whore under the gaze of her father, and chooses Irene as his bride. Bajazet, for his part, is now ready to take the ultimate step: He takes his share of the poison, which enables him to be freed from the chains that Tamerlano placed him in. In a big public speech he describes his suicide as a final act of self-determination and swears eternal damnation to the tyrant. By taking this step he has to leave his daughter, who begs to be killed too, to face her fate alone. Shocked by Bajazet’s suicide and his own fate, Andronico also threatens to kill himself. But Tamerlano, feeling that Bajazet’s death has eliminated the last of his enemies, performs a final act of mercy, giving Andronico Asteria’s hand in marriage and making him ruler of Greece. Full of gratitude for this generous and unexpected gift, Andronico sees his friendship with Tamerlano renewed – while Tamerlano has again succeeded in maintaining his position as ruler.