Singing up a storm

Last night to Pinchgut opera’s production of Bajazet.

The title character is Bayezid I, a Sultan of the Ottoman empire, who was defeated at the battle of Ankara in 1402 by Timur, aka Tambourlaine the Great. Bajazet wants his (fictional) daughter, Asteria, to marry a (fictional) Greek prince, Andronicus. Conveniently they are in love after catching each other’s eyes when Andronicus spared her in the fray (I think: I wasn’t always following the surtitles closely enough). Tamerlano also has fallen for Asteria, although he was previously due to marry another princess, Irene. The solution he proposes is to marry Irene off to Andronicus, whom he will make king of Bajazet’s former domains, and to spare Bajazet’s life provided Asteria marries him (that is, marries Tamerlano). Tamerlano sends Andronicus to Asteria to propose to her on his behalf.

Bajazet isn’t happy. Andronicus isn’t happy but seems to go along with it at first – what choice does he have? Asteria isn’t happy, especially with Andronicus. Irene turns up and she isn’t happy. There are lots of twists and turns and even Tamerlano isn’t too happy about some of them.

This is a “pasticcio” put together by Vivaldi from his own and other composer’s works. What that means is that apart from the recitatives it is a medley of his own and other people’s hits. Ironically, the most well-known aria from the opera is by one of the other people.

Given that Tambourlaine was a bit of a byword as a mighty and brutal conqueror and given the tempestuousness of the emotions expounded by the plot, it is probably not surprising that rather a lot of the arias were of the rage and lots of notes type. Loud and fast was obviously a crowd pleaser. We got some relief from this after interval, including my own favourite, invoking a timid little deer, with violin solo and plucked accompaniment.

Some of the rather unrelieved vigour seemed to be matter of the style adopted by Erin Helyard as conductor/harpsichordist. You sometimes get the impression (though it is rather dated) that there is a school of thought in some “authentic” bands that you show how authentic you are by throwing yourself into it. I would have appreciated a bit more refinement at times and rhythmic spring even when the dial turned to tempest/rage.

I enjoyed it, if more in particular parts than the whole.

There is a pretty comprehensive review by Clive Paget in Limelight which I mostly agree with. (Warning: plot spoiler spoiler alert!)  That’s my lazy way of getting around commenting on individual singers.  I can do that because I am not a critic.  But they did, collectively, sing up a storm.

Leaflets around the place announced that next year’s Pinchgut season is to comprise Haydn’s Armida and Handel’s Theodora. It seems that Antony Walker will be back to conduct one of them though unless I missed it they did not say which.

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