I will keep this brief. I’m never pleased with myself after leaving an opera at an interval, but this evening’s performance of Tamerlano at Covent Garden really didn’t present much of an incentive to stay. To be blunt, it was a dull opera, badly sung and statically presented.
It wasn’t an auspicious start when we arrived to be told that an opera that started at 6.30pm would finish at 11pm. On a weeknight, I find it a little daunting to be arriving home at about 11.45pm. Well, that is to say, without being merry on an evening’s festivities, and this opera is certainly not one to get you merry or festive.
I quite like Handel. I look forward to getting to know Handel better. However, I do not wish to experience as profoundly dull and gloomy an opera as this again for a long while. We left after Act 1, but the 75mins we spent in the auditorium were leavened only by the appearance of Irene on the back of a large elephant, singing an aria which, finally, had some fire and ‘oomph’ about it. Everything else had seemed unrelentingly ‘samey’. And from having played the BluRay over the weekend, I can only say that the same repetitive feeling persisted: a sense that there is not enough ‘light and shade’ or variety to the presentation of the material.
The singing didn’t help. Kurt Streit as Bajazet (replacing Domingo, as is well-documented), barked, shouted and yelped in a most disconcerting way, and certainly in a manner which cut across any sense of baroque grace without adding anything in the way of dramatic fire. Christianne Stotijn was woolly and vague of pitch, and not comfortable to watch, with some very generalised ‘flourish’ gestures, and a sort of dance routine for one aria which was really not necessary. The overwhelming reaction to Christine Schäfer was a sense of ‘what has happened?’, vocally sounding ill-at-ease, and fluffing almost her first line of recitative and having to say sorry, take a cue from the conductor, Ivor Bolton, and then continue. Sara Mingardo had a voice a size too small for the theatre, seemingly, as Andronico. And that leaves just Renata Pokupic to give unalloyed pleasure, and a sense of the drama behind Giulio Cesare, in the more minor role of Irene.
I will unreservedly compliment the playing of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Ivor Bolton – I was left with some of that Handelian swing and fizz that is so infectious, but no matter how enjoyable, it sadly didn’t give life to the drama that was failing to unfold in front of us.
So, having bailed out at the interval, and gone home to do some ironing for the week ahead, I can safely say that I shall not be rushing to any future performance of Tamerlano. The programme said that it was one of Handel’s three great operas of the 1720s, naming it alongside Giulio Cesare. Frankly, on my experience of both, they simply don’t compare.
And that leaves the final question: would Plácido Domingo have redeemed the proceedings? Well, I may have stayed for the opportunity to hear him for what may well be the last time in London as a tenor (though I wish him an even speedier recovery than I would otherwise wish him, just so I can see/hear his Boccanegra). However, I don’t think much would have been significantly improved. Maybe the hardcore Handelians see something profound in Tamerlano: I see something indulgently long, sadly flat in dramatic terms, and in need of some considerably more satisfying singing than was on offer tonight in order to justify its place on the main stage of a top-class opera house.
On the plus side, I have got all my ironing done…