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Breach of conventions?

Handel's opera 'Tamerlano'
in a new recording -
investigated by PETER DALE

'... absolutely convincing ...'

Handel: Tamerlano (c) 2002 The English Concert

Handel's Tamerlano comes from the early 1720s. Newly settled in Brook Street, he capitalised on the rage for Italian opera (or was it Italian opera stars? A faintly muddy distinction, even now). First came Giulio Cesare, then Tamerlano, and then Rodelinda, all of them great works by any standards.

Tamerlano is something of a curiosity though: effectively, the opera ends with the death by suicide of the defeated, humiliated Ottoman Sultan, Bajazet. Tamerlano (Tamburlaine of Marlowe's play) has driven him to it, and two more suicides look very likely indeed. But the conventions of opera seria required a happy ending. In principle, Handel conforms. Ashamed of his actions, Tamerlano reforms and a double wedding is imminent -- but all this in the very last bars only, and even they close with with a chorus whose sentiments are up-beat but whose tonality is e minor!

The modern listener has the advantage of not being wrong-footed by this breach of baroque conventions. That the opera is both seria and essentially tragic does not bother us.

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Copyright © 29 September 2002 Peter Dale, Danbury, Essex, UK


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