The City Recital Hall was transformed
I walked into a transformed Angel Place, a rich red and white destroyed palace with the smoke of war still rising. Then I noticed the skeletons sitting in the front rows of the balcony, either side of the stage, leaning over the edge in eager anticipation. It was stunning, and that was before the music even started.
Bazajet, the Ottoman ruler of Turkey, has been conquered by the Tartars. He and his daughter are being kept prisoner by Tamerlane, played by American counter-tenor Christopher Lowrey as a capricious arrogant narcissist with a sense of humour, who wants to marry Bazajet’s daughter Asteria. He seems quite benign, but I’ve read the program notes. This is none other than Timur the Lame, one of history’s greatest tyrants. It’s estimated that his multicultural armies wiped out 5% of the world’s population at the end of the fourteenth century: a figure that translates to almost 340 million today.
Soloists excelled at this demanding and virtuosic style
This is an opera pasticcio, works that were hastily put together in the early 1700s to satisfy the needs of an opera-crazed audience, when there was not enough time to create new works. Most of the music is by Vivaldi, and it was fascinating to hear the differences between his own Venetian music and the new Neapolitan style music he chose, by other composers, to represent the incoming regime of Tamerlane and his allies. All the soloists excelled at this demanding and virtuosic style, exemplified in incredible style by Helen Sherman’s aria near the end of Act One. I was wondering how anyone could physically sing like this for so long, when it began all over again, with the da capo even more brilliant.
Every change of mood highlights with dynamic ebb and flow
So much virtuosic show, designed partly to show off the techniques of the castrati of the day, could become rather empty, but the second half of Act Two totally dispelled any feeling that it was all too much. Tamerlane’s anger and cruelty is unleashed and as things unravel in a terrible way, the music becomes more sparse and poignant, the characters interact more in dialogue and ensembles and I felt I could see the way pointing forward to a later operatic style, the synthesis of music and drama.
With the orchestra on the level of the stalls, it’s possible to appreciate the interaction of the whole ensemble under conductor and harpsichordist Erin Helyard. They played on their period instruments with great energy and highlighted every change of mood with their dynamic ebb and flow.
Get out there and see this wonderful forgotten masterpiece
We are so lucky to have such a wonderful ensemble in Pinchgut Opera, who are dedicated to producing these forgotten masterpieces and have had the vision and will to make it happen. Congratulations and thank you so much to everyone involved, it is a simply amazing production. The cost of putting these on is enormous and in this era of disappearing government funding, I’d like to urge everyone to get out there and support live music while we still can.