From this week until February 8th you can attend alternatively these two Baroque operas by Handel at La Monnaie with an almost empty stage but plenty of passion, chiaroscuro and movement to visualize two very different stories in period set design and costumes.
Tamerlano is one of the darkest operas and the most sinister libretto in Handel’s production. “Il Sassone” composed it the same year of “Giulio Cesare”, perhaps his most immortal piece with “The Messiah”, for the King’s Theatre in London, in fierce competition with the other composer of Italian opera in England at that time, Bononcini. Fortunes and reputations were burnt in a game to host the most splendid opera, in a political confrontation with operistic ramifications between the supporters of the new king George I, a German like Handel, and the old English aristocracy. Castrati enjoyed a similar social position to football players today—and were paid accordingly—and Italian operas were monuments built for their vocal acrobatics. Besides, Handel not only composed but also was in charge of the hiring of the singers and the supervision of the orchestra and the musicians. It is not surprising how often he copies his own music, as he does in Tamerlano, because operas were not considered original creations but blockbusters to beat competitors and seduce audiences.
So are we after Tamerlano, seduced. Seduced not by the evil role title, Tamerlano, created for the castrato voice and played by countenors, Christophe Dumaux in this case, but by the rest of the cast: Jeremy Ovenden, a wonderful tenor in Bajazete, the real protagonist of the story and a hero role who was not conceived for castrato; Delphine Galou, contralto, who plays Andronico with a dignified manly presence; Sophie Karthäuser, soprano, the loving daughter of Bajazete and fiancée of Andronico, Asteria; and, among others, Ann Hallenberg, mezzo-soprano, the strong-minded rejected fiancée of Tamerlano, and future empress, Irene. Seduced by the orchestra, Le Talents Lyriques, conducted by Christophe Rousset. Seduced by the play of lights that underline so subtly the action in its various moments of wrath, pride, lust and envy. An almost complete set of cardinal sins for this Italian opera by a great German composer who lived in London!
Next Friday I will continue with Alcina.