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Vivaldi,  Bajazet : Soloists , Europa Galante Conductor: Fabio Biondi Teatro Real de Madrid. 27.03.2008 (JMI)

Concert Version.

Bajazet: Christian Senn
Tamerlano: Romina Basso.
Asteria: Marina de Liso.
Andronico: Lucia Cirillo.
Irene: Vivica Genaux.
Idaspe: Maria Grazia Schiavo.

Last week was Tamerlano week in Madrid, or if you prefer, Tamerlano and Bajazet week.  It was  very good idea on the part of Teatro Real to offer this Vivaldi opera together with  performances of Handel’s Tamerlano, since both operas deal with the same subject and follow almost same libretto.

The victory of  the Tartar king Tamerlan [ or Tamburlaine in Christopher Marlowe,  Ed ] over the Ottoman sultan Bajazet brought such relief to Western Europe that the subject became the plot for numerous dramas and operas. Bajazet had worried central and western Europe greatly during the second half of the XIVth century, having conquered Serbia and Bulgaria and after defeating the Crusading army, finally laying siege to Constantinople. His own defeat by Tamerlan (Tamerlano in Italian) in fact delayed the fall of Byzantine Empire for almost half  a century.

Vivaldi approached this work in a way that would be  unthinkable now, but which was quite  normal in the XVIIIth century. He borrowed  music from some of  his other operas and also from works by other composers. Bajazet can properly considered as a pastiche in fact, since the only things in it that were composed “ad hoc” were its recitatives. In addition to arias by Vivaldi himself, there are others by Hasse, Giacomelli and by Ricardo Broschi, brother of the famous Farinelli.

If the premiere of Tamerlano raised little or no critical enthusiasm (see review)  this was a real triumph, because it was an unstaged version  with an outstanding orchestra specializing in baroque opera and using original instruments. I refer of course, to Europa Galante and its director Fabio Biondi. Baroque opera needs extraordinary  interpreters to show off its brilliance  and on this occasion we had them. This was the main difference between this opera and Tamerlano :  Fabio Biondi is genuinely  “a three star” conductor whereas Paul McCreesh, despite  his striving for baroque authenticity,  achieves nowhere near the same level of excellence. This was  gorgeous sound; perfection in fact, without a single fault and with  extraordinary musical direction from its leader, who is also an exceptional violinist. Hats off then, Ladies and Gentlemen!

The vocal casting  was better than the first cast of Tamerlano too, with no errors in it at all  and the fact that this was a concert also helped considerably with voice projection. The principal character in this opera, at least theoretically, is Sultan Bajazet, who is not a tenor but a bass-baritone - or rather a baritone here because I am referring to the Chilean Christian Senn. His  presence in baroque roles is becoming more and more frequent by the day and while he is not a particularly exciting singer  and simply carries out his task,   he was very much better here than in Orlando’s Zoroastro in Valencia, which was a clear case of miscasting.

Bajazet's  rival Tamerlano was the Italian mezzo Romina Basso, whose voice had much more weight than Monica Bacelli’s Tamerlano, although she is still no  contralto. But in this type of repertoire Ms Basso  is a guarantee of quality, with  more than acceptable singing including great agility and expressiveness. Her biggest problem remains as  the fact that she isn’t a contralto of course, so that her lowest range is rather hollow. Even so, this was an excellent performance.

The character Irene is much more important in Vivaldi than in Handel, since the Venetian composer (or maybe his colleagues !) dedicates three very difficult and beautiful arias to her, particularly the terribly taxing one in the first act, an authentic test for any virtuoso singer. Vivica Genaux’s Irene  brought the house down. She tackled the enormous difficulties of her Act I aria with true mastery and commitment, and I am only sorry that she was not cast as Andrónico in Tamerlano. This was  the best performance from her that I have seen so far.

Bajazet's Andrónico, a Greek prince, was interpreted by the Italian Lucia Cirillo, a young and remarkable singer, who made great sense  in the recitatives. His voice is not particularly large, but it is always pleasant and he handles this many runs exceptionally well. He  was a very convincing interpreter. Another particularly pleasant surprise was hearing Marina De Liso as Asteria  - who in this opera  is not a soprano.I say surprise because I remember her as an uninteresting Andronico in Tamerlano a few years ago but here I found her very much improved, both as a singer and interpreter. Like Lucia Cirillo, the voice is not big, but she had a well-deserved success.

The young soprano Maria Grazia Schiavo, took the part of Idaspe with a very good coloratura and singing with excellent taste. Her high notes are less interesting, lacking some quality as yet, but she has plenty of time to deal with that problem as her career progresses.

There were some empty seats for this concerts but the ovations began very early in the evening and the performance ended up as a huge triumph,  particularly for Fabio Biondi, Vivica Genaux and Europe Galante.  In fact, every singer was  applauded and cheered, which was certainly not the case in Tamerlano.

José M Irurzun

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