Opera Scotland

Tamerlano 1982Welsh National Opera

Read more about the opera Tamerlano

Scotland was largely by-passed during the early years of the Handel opera revival. In the sixties the annual autumn festival of Ledlanet Nights in Kinross-shire included excellent stagings of three works, Partenope, Agrippina and Alcina. However Scottish Opera and the Edinburgh Festival had both ignored this great opera composer. How strange, then, that when the Festival did decide to import a staging it should be directed by Philip Prowse, one of the triumvirate that ran Glasgow's Citizens Theatre, with a second one providing the translation. How enterprising of Welsh National. And how strange that the Festival should, a few days later, bring in another Handel production, Ariodante.

Tamerlano is always recognised to be one of the greatest of Handel's stage works, and it contains page after page of glorious music. The father-daughter pairing of Bajazet and Asteria are beautifully composed, culminating in Bajazet's suicide scene. The title role seems to be more difficult to motivate, even though his music is also of superb quality - perhaps his character as an all-powerful tyrant is more difficult to project than the old sultan and his vengeful daughter.

Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Eiddwen Harrhy spent large sections of their early careers singing Handel, and there were few who could do it better. Robin Martin-Oliver was a fluent and promising counter-tenor who sang several leading roles. Musically the evening was hard to fault, with Julian Smith providing sure direction from the pit.

The production did not overcome the problem of pacing. This opera does seem to cause difficulties because of the number of slow arias, and, even by the standards of opera seria can seem very static. Visually, too, there was a sense of monotony, with the rubble-strewn set almost uniformly grey. When Scottish Opera got round to mounting a production of Tamerlano (in 2006) the same problem seemed evident.

The Festival's opera programme

The 1982 Edinburgh Festival had an Italian theme, though the opera programme did not follow this slavishly.  Scottish Opera at least performed  an opera by a composer generally ignored in the past - Puccini - and Manon Lescaut had not been seen in Scotland since Carl Rosa days, nearly thirty years before.

German opera companies had often visited Edinburgh.  However these were generally from the West - Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart or Cologne.   Here,  less than a decade before the seemingly miraculous removal of the Wall,  we had a famous company from the East.   The Dresden State Opera was closely connected with Richard Strauss,  as the launchpad for most of his operas,   If Ariadne auf Naxos was actually premiered elsewhere,  it did at least fit the intimate King's Theatre well, and also linked to the Festival's Italian theme through its commedia element.   German companies also tended to bring a Mozart singspiel,  either Zauberflöte, or, as here, Entführung,

Welsh National Opera's contribution was Handel - the first Scottish performances of Tamerlano.  This tied in very neatly with a second Handel masterpiece,  Ariodante,  that ended the Festival in a lovely production by the Piccola Scala from Milan. They also brought a delightful early Rossini comedy, La pietra del paragone.

Performance Cast

Andronico a Greek prince, Tamerlano's ally

Brian Gordon

Bajazet Sultan of Turkey, now a prisoner

Anthony Rolfe Johnson

Tamerlano Emperor of the Tartars

Robin Martin-Oliver

Asteria Bajazet's daughter

Eiddwen Harrhy

Irene Princess of Trebizond

Caroline Baker

Leone confidant of Andronico and Tamerlano

Peter Savidge

Performance DatesTamerlano 1982

Map List

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

1 Sep, 19.30 5 Sep, 19.30

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