Scottish Opera: Tamerlano

Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Thu 16 & Sat 18 Nov; Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Fri 24 & Thu 30 Nov


Although Handel’s Tamerlano is one of the gems of Baroque opera, it is, oddly, very rarely performed. Or perhaps it’s not so odd, given that it is only relatively recently that such operas are gaining in renewed popularity. Conducting Scottish Opera’s new production, which follows hot on the heels of the same composer’s hugely successful Semele last season, is Glasgow-born conductor Christian Curnyn. With director John La Bouchardiere, he was part of the creative team behind Semele and is delighted to be returning for this latest Handel undertaking.

‘I don’t really know why Tamerlano hasn’t been done nearly as much as it should be,’ he says. ‘I think that, basically, people are now realising that it is just amazing music. Even ten years ago, it was on the sideline and now it’s getting into the mainstream of core repertoire.’ Not wanting to give too much away about the production in case it spoils the surprise - albeit a promise of a nice surprise - Curnyn does, however, describe the opera as ‘certainly not a laugh a minute. There isn’t much light in it, but it is immediate and very different to Handel’s other operas.’

Inspired by the 14th century nomad conqueror, Tamerlane, and set in what is now Turkey, the music does not, says Curnyn, ‘have a lot of explosive vocal fireworks. It’s lyrical, through composed, in that it doesn’t use the style of big show pieces, and has a rather meditative quality to it.’

Over three hours long, it is vital that Curnyn paces the baroque score so that, as he says, ‘it’s like keeping a ball in the air. The strings play with no vibrato and use shorter than usual bow strokes to get the right sort of sound. Like any good orchestra, they are up for doing something different.’

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