Born in Germany, trained in Italy and nationalized English, the composer born Georg Friederich Händel was one of the most important, innovative, and cosmopolitan opera composers of the Baroque period (1600-1750), a true man of the theatre. In a span of just 20 days in 1724—the same year he created Giulio Cesare and Rodelinda—Handel wrote Tamerlano.
With his inexhaustible melodic inventiveness, Handel knew how to evoke the complex humanity of operatic characters, alternating recitatives (a mixture of speech and song), arias (showpieces for the vocalists’ prowess), and choral numbers to shape works of polished intensity—so highly prized that they spurred commercial competition between opera houses in the same city. This competitive environment, as well as the incessant public demand for new and more striking operas, inspired composers like Handel to explore avant-garde approaches (much as today’s music industry does to pop stars!).
In Tamerlano, Handel defied rules both written and tacit—offering a main role to a mature tenor at a time when the castrato voice dominated; and not shying away from shocking scenes that other composers approached hesitantly, like suicide. Pierre Audi’s elegant, minimalist staging allows an all-star cast of singers to highlight the work’s many dramatic elements, proving that Baroque opera can still move and thrill us as it did 300 years ago!