Il Tamerlano, Opera by A. Vivaldi
Antonio Vivaldi’s Il Tamerlano, also popularly known as Bajazet, had its premiere at Teatro Filarmonico in Verona during the carnival in the now distant 1735. Armed with a classic plot of imperial clashes that involve politics, romance and death, this classic Baroque opera exemplifies the genre quite well. The libretto was penned by Agostino Piovene, who used historical sources about the Turco-Mongol conqueror Timur Lenk, popularly known as Tamerlane in English or Tamerlano in Italian, and his successful military campaign against the Ottoman Empire in the early 15th century. This season, Venice’s Teatro Malibran presents a piece of imperial and musical history all rolled into one.
In terms of its score, Il Tamerlano is a good example of Vivaldi’s use of the pasticcio technique. To create a full opera with enough memorable arias and ensembles, the Italian composer used bits and pieces from other works and by other composers as well as passages that had not yet found a place in previous compositions. On top of the impressive melodies and recitatives, Il Tamerlano also features a three-part symphony that acts as an extended introduction and presents some of the opera’s central motifs.
The plot of Il Tamerlano is inspired by the real-life events after Tamerlane’s sack of Ankara and the fall of Sultan Bayezid I from the throne of the Ottoman Empire as a result thereof. The central characters, in their Italianised names, are Tamerlano, his ally the Byzantine Greek Prince Andronico, the Ottoman Sultan Bajazet, his daughter Asteria, and Irene, a princess betrothed to Tamerlano. After his grand victory, Tamerlano has imprisoned Bajazet and is pondering his fate. Even though he is engaged to be married to Princess Irene, he quickly develops feelings for his royal prisoner’s daughter Asteria, who is promised to Andronico. Tamerlano even goes as far as to offer that they swap brides, an offer the Greek prince respectfully declines. As tensions rise, Asteria and Bajazet forge a dangerous assassination plan that will land them both in hot water. Whether they escape Tamerlano’s notorious wrath remains to be seen at Teatro Malibran in Venice.