<< -- 2 -- Robert Hugill HANDEL'S FIRST NIGHT THOUGHTS
Mark Chaundy as Bajazet probably had the hardest job as it is always tricky for young singers to portray older characters. Chaundy wisely did not attempt to play old, but aimed simply for a gravitas, suitable for Bajazet's character. It helped that he was able to wonderfully tear through the glorious sequence of arias that Handel gives Bajazet, culminating in the glorious final death scene. In Chaundy's hands, this was most affecting and made even more so by sticking to Handel's first night thoughts, whereby Bajazet's death is followed simply, and bleakly, by some recitative and the final coro (sung by all the surviving characters except Asteria).
Though the opera is called Tamerlano, the leading role is Andronico which was taken by castrato superstar Senesino. He specialised in playing affecting, drooping lovers rather than heroics, his voice tended to the lyrical rather than the martial. As a result, Lucy Taylor had a serious of delicious love-lorn arias to sing. She has the physique du role and made a fine lover, even if her physical stage presence still seems a little inhibited. She was not quite as comfortable in the more martial aspects of Andronico's character and failed to make the most of the more elaborate passage-work that Andronico is called on to sing.
Anouschka Lara made an attractive, petite Asteria. Deceptively fragile, she excelled at portraying the steel that lays beneath Asteria's character, thus enabling her to consider marrying Tamerlano solely to murder him. This made her contribution to the glorious conclusion to Act 2 all the more moving. This scene is one of Handel's great constructions, after much recitative and a trio for Tamerlano, Bajazet and Asteria, Asteria goes on to ask Bajazet, Andronico and Irene whether she has indeed been faithless, each sings an aria in response and leaves and the act closes with Asteria vindicated. Lara's approach to the arias sometimes betrayed a hint of a style more suitable to early nineteenth century Italian opera and her upper register did not always sound easy; but her portrayal of Asteria was truly affecting and she made Asteria a rounded character, with rather more 'get up and go' than the average Handelian heroine.
Counter-tenor Andrew Radley has a strong stage presence and his Tamerlano rightly often dominated the stage. Radley seemed at ease with the complex passage-work that characterises some of Tamerlano's arias, but did not quite manage to use the vocal line to create the sort of menacing character that Tamerlano ought to be. In fact, there were moments when Radley's Tamerlano teetered on the camp and it says much for Radley's stage presence that the audience did not laugh. I look forward to hearing and seeing much more of Andrew Radley as he seems a natural stage creature.
Frances Bourne made a fine, strong Irene, managing to make much of this slightly under-written character.
The orchestra was made up of students and they gave a fine, period-aware performance, giving the singers good support and turning in some lovely instrumental obbligato.
Richard Gregson, Andrew Jones and their team have given us a find opportunity to hear one of Handel's operas pretty much as he intended. For that we must be grateful. That they gave us such a delightfully theatrical, well sung evening must be counted as a glorious bonus. Cambridge Handel Opera Group is planning to produce another opera in 2007. If you love Handel's operas then I urge you to join the group's Friends and Benefactors scheme.