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Tamerlano (Tamerlane, HWV 18) is an opera in three acts written for the Royal Academy of Music (1719), with music by George Frideric Handel to an Italian text by Nicola Francesco Haym, adapted from Agostin Piovene's Tamerlano together with another libretto entitled Bajazet after Nicolas Pradon's Tamerlan, ou La Mort de Bajazet.

One of Handel's major works, he composed it in the space of 20 days in July 1724, in a year in which two more great operas were composed by him: Giulio Cesare and Rodelinda. Eve Meyer has noted how the role of Bajazet was one of the first major tenor roles in opera, as well as the place of the opera in the contemporary fashion for Turkish culture (turquerie).[1]

Performance history[edit]

It was first performed at the King's Theatre, London, on 31 October 1724, around the time of the annual performance of Nicholas Rowe's Tamerlane plays (4–5 November). There were 12 performances and it was repeated on 13 November 1731. The opera then received a production in Hamburg with the recitative in German and the arias in Italian.[2] The first modern production was in Karlsruhe on 7 September 1924. Amongst recent productions, it appeared in the repertory of the Washington National Opera in 2008 and of the Los Angeles Opera in November 2009; both productions featured tenor Plácido Domingo, who is also the general director of both companies.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 31 October 1724
(Conductor: - )
Tamerlano, Emperor of the Tartars alto castrato Andrea Pacini
Bajazet, Sultan of the Turks tenor Francesco Borosini
Asteria, Bajazet's daughter soprano Francesca Cuzzoni
Andronico, Greek prince alto castrato Senesino
Irene, Princess of Trebizond, betrothed to Tamerlano contralto Anna Vincenza Dotti
Leone, friend of Andronico and Tamerlano bass Giuseppe Maria Boschi


Place: Prusa
Time: 1402

Act 1[edit]

The defeated Ottoman Emperor Bajazet is brought in chains to the court of Tamerlano. Tamerlano has ordered Andronico to remove the chains, but Bajazet is mistrustful of this action. Bajazet adds that the only reason he does not commit suicide is his love for his daughter, Asteria. Tamerlano arrives and orders Andronico to try and obtain Bajazet and Asteria's consent for Asteria to marry Tamerlano, with a reward for Andronico of the Greek throne, marriage with Irene, and freedom for Bajazet. Andronico is troubled, as he brought his love Asteria to try and soften Tamerlano, only to see Tamerlano fall in love with her. Tamerlano tells Asteria of his intentions and the offer to Andronico, which makes her angry at Andronico's seeming betrayal.

Bajazet declines Tamerlano's offer, and furthermore is angry at his daughter's seeming meekness at Tamerlano's demands. However, once alone, Asteria says that despite Andronico's apparent treachery, her feelings for him have not changed. Irene arrives to learn that she is no longer to marry Tamerlano, but instead Andronico. Andronico tells Irene that she can still change the outcome if she pretends to be her own messenger and takes issue with Tamerlano. She agrees to this plan, while he bemoans his current compromised situation.

Act 2[edit]

Tamerlano tells Andronico of Asteria's acceptance of his marriage proposal, and that the two planned weddings, of Tamerlano to Asteria and of Andronico to Irene, will happen soon. Tamerlano and Asteria sing contrasting arias at the situation. Asteria pretends to tell Andronico that she is about to marry Tamerlano, but through a misunderstanding, Andronico is left dejected at the thought. Meanwhile, Leone brings the disguised Irene to Tamerlano, where she pleads Irene's case. Tamerlano hears her with composure. When Irene and Asteria are alone, Asteria shows sympathy towards Irene and speaks of her own feelings. Irene finds hope in this revelation, while Leone 'comments only on love's irresistible power for good or evil.'[3]

Bajazet is outraged at his daughter's impending marriage to Tamerlano and swears to stop this, while Andronico is furious and resolves to have his vengeance on Tamerlano before he kills himself. Asteria is secretly preparing to kill Tamerlano in the meantime. However, Bajazet manages to stall the wedding, and also avoids being humiliated by Tamerlano when he is stopped. Asteria makes a move to the dais, only for her father to stop her. She then pulls out a dagger, saying that it would have been her present to Tamerlano. After a trio between Tamerlano, Bajazet, and Asteria, Tamerlano orders the death of Bajazet and Asteria. However, Asteria protests that she has never been unfaithful and gets agreement from Bajazet, Andronico, and Irene, which gives her some feeling of happiness. She also feels sad that her plans for assassination failed and that she has lost her chance for happiness.

Act 3[edit]

Asteria and Bajazet decide to kill themselves with concealed poison. Alone, Asteria contemplates her oncoming death. Tamerlano makes one last attempt to win Asteria and says that he will even pardon her father. However, Andronico and Asteria declare their love for each other, which enrages Tamerlano and makes him swear his own revenge. Bajazet tries to gain inspiration from their action, while the couple can only find happiness in facing together whatever may come of declaring their mutual love.

Meanwhile, Irene pledges her love to Tamerlano if he returns his own love to her, while Leone hopes that ultimately love will win the day over revenge. Tamerlano prepares to humiliate his enemies, and begins by bringing Bajazet and then Asteria before him. Andronico pleads for mercy from Tamerlano. Tamerlano will not listen, and orders Asteria to become his servant, and that she must first serve him wine. Asteria puts the poison from her father into the cup. Irene then reveals her true identity to Tamerlano and the situation of the poisoned cup. Tamerlano then orders Asteria to decide who first to give the cup to, her father or Andronico, before she may bring it to him. Asteria is about to drink from the cup herself when Andronico hits it out of her hand, which further enrages Tamerlano. He orders Asteria's arrest and confinement in the common seraglio, and that Bajazet will have to see her being shamed. Bajazet, angry at this situation, declares that his spirit will haunt Tamerlano when he has died.

Irene and Tamerlano sing of the happy life that awaits them, after Tamerlano has had his revenge. Leone then reports the arrival of Asteria and Bajazet. Bajazet is surprisingly serene now, but finally reveals that this is because he has taken poison. As he becomes more incoherent, he says goodbye to his daughter and berates Tamerlano, until Andronico and Asteria carry him out of the room. Asteria then returns to ask for death, since Tamerlano can never get what he wants from her. Both Irene and Andronico send after Asteria to try and stop her suicide, while Tamerlano is finally changed by the events he has witnessed as well as by Irene's pleas. He finally pardons Asteria, Andronico, and Bajazet. The opera concludes with a love duet between Tamerlano and Irene, and the chorus sings of love's ability to save light from the dark.

Noted arias[edit]

  • "Forte e lieto a morte andrei" (Bajazet),
  • "Ciel e terra armi di sdegno" (Bajazet),
  • "Empio per farti guerra" (Bajazet),
  • "Bella Asteria" (Andronico),
  • "Se non mi vuol amar" (Asteria),
  • "Par che mi nasca" (Irene).


  • McCreesh/Bohlin/Mingardo/Bacelli/Domingo - DVD on Opus Arte - Teatro Real, Madrid (2008)
  • Pinnock/Norberg-Schulz/Pushee/Bacelli/Randle - DVD on Arthaus - Bad Lauchstädt (2001)
  • Alain Aubin/Christophe Einhorn/Lesley-Jane Rogers/Malcolm Smith/Claudine Chériez/Olivier Lalouette; European Community Baroque Orchestra; Roy Goodman, director - Abbaye de Royaumont (1990)[4]
  • Erato NUM 75278-3: Derek Ragin; Nigel Robson; Nancy Argenta; Michael Chance; Jane Findlay; René Schirrer; English Baroque Soloists; John Eliot Gardiner, conductor - live in Cologne (1985)[5]
  • CBS 13M 37893: Henri Ledroit, John Elwes, Mieke van der Sluis, René Jacobs, Isabelle Poulenard, Gregory Reinhart; La Grande Écurie et La Chambre du Roy; Jean-Claude Malgoire, conductor (1983)[6]
  • ORYX 4XLC 2 (USA issue on Cambridge): Alexander Young, Carole Bogarde, Sophia Steffan, Gwendolyn Killebrew, Joanna Simon, Marius Rintzler; Chamber Orchestra of Copenhagen; John Moriarty, conductor (1970)[7]
  • Dabringhaus und Grimm [MDG 609 1457-2]: Nicholas Spanos (counter tenor), Mary-Ellen Nesi (mezzo soprano), Tassis Christoyannis (baratone), Mata Katsuli (soprano), Irini Karaianni (mezzo soprano), Petros Magoulas (bass); George Petrou (conductor), Orchestra of Patras (on period instruments); Original 1724 version; Recorded 2007

See also[edit]

The only complete recording of this opera was released by Virgin Classics on May 10, 2005.


  1. ^ Meyer, Eve R., "Turquerie and Eighteenth-Century Music" (Summer 1974). Eighteenth-Century Studies, 7(4), pp. 474-488.
  2. ^ Knapp, J. Merrill (July 1970). "Handel's Tamerlano: the creation of an opera". The Musical Quarterly LVI (3): 405–430. doi:10.1093/mq/LVI.3.405. Retrieved 2007-11-04. 
  3. ^ Kobbé, Gustav. The Definitive Kobbé's Book of Opera. Ed. The Earl of Harewood. 1st American ed. New York: G.P. Putnam's and Sons, 1987. 40.
  4. ^ Radio France CD K003. Recorded at Abbaye de Royaumont, 29 September 1990.
  5. ^ Best, Terence, Review of recording of Tamerlano (August 1987). Early Music, 15 (3): pp. 415+417.
  6. ^ Brown, Andrew, Review of recording of Tamerlano (November 1985). Early Music, 13 (4): pp. 593+595.
  7. ^ Hicks, Anthony, Review of recording of Tamerlano (February 1974). The Musical Times, 115 (1572): pp. 137-138.
  • Dean, Winton; Knapp, J. Merrill (1987). Handel's Operas, 1704-1726. Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-315219-3.  The first of the two volume definitive reference on the operas of Handel
  • Hicks, A., (1992) "Tamerlano", The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, ed. Stanley Sadie. London: Macmillan Reference ISBN 0-333-73432-7
  • Kobbé, Gustav (1987) The Definitive Kobbé's Book of Opera; ed. the Earl of Harewood; 1st American ed. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons; pp. 39-41.


Score of Tamerlano (ed. Friedrich Chrysander, Leipzig 1876)

External links[edit]