Dramma per musica in three acts (1724)
Music by Georg Friedrich Händel
Libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym
Concert performance in Italian
Thursday, 22 April 2021, 7 pm
The Central Asian conqueror Timur aimed to re-establish Genghis Khan’s Mongol empire, advanced westward and in 1402 inflicted a heavy defeat on the Ottoman army led by Sultan Bayezid. The ambivalence of Genghis Khan, who could neither read nor write, was feared for his cruelty and promoted science and the arts, fascinated 18th-century librettists. Following his success with Giulio Cesare in Egitto, George Frideric Handel, during his first London opera academy in 1724, also turned his attention to the emir, who during the Baroque age was known as Tamerlane. As so often the libretto was written by Nicola Francesco Haym. Handel was actually more interested in Tamerlane’s adversary Bajazet whose death inspired the composer to write one of the first death scenes to be shown on an opera stage. Tamerlano has defeated Bajazet and taken him prisoner. What is more, the conqueror wants to force Bajazet’s daughter Asteria to marry him, but she loves his Greek ally Andronico. Bajazet is humiliated and poisons himself. It is the death of his opponent that finally brings Tamerlano to his senses, and he relinquishes Asteria. In Baroque opera, most of the protagonists were of noble descent and it was not permitted to demean them in public. Consequently, it was not usual to show death scenes. For Tamerlano, Handel broke with this convention. He gives the dying Bajazet ample room in his suffering. However, Handel was unable to show the death itself and shortly before he dies, Bajazet leaves the stage on which one of the most melancholy closing ensembles in Baroque opera then begins. With Bajazet’s death scene Handel anticipates by a hundred years the tragic deaths that occur en masse on 19th-century opera stages. For the role of Bajazet, Handel engaged the Italian singer Francesco Borosini, who had previously been performing in Vienna. Borosini, known for his unusually wide vocal range, had already portrayed Bajazet in Gasparini’s setting of Tamerlano in Italy, and Handel made full use of his abilities. His Bajazet is the first lead role in an opera to be written for a tenor voice.