This was my first Pinchgut Opera experience- a bit different to OA but I quite enjoyed it! Also the first time I had ever heard (or even knew of) counter-tenors! Really unique vocal!
Vivaldi’s Bajazet is rarely performed; in fact it is so rare that there exists only a single recording of the Opera. It is thus exceptionally special to see this opera recreated on stage in Pinchgut Opera’slatest production, with its stunning arias and soaring music.
As skeletons leer down onto the stage from the stalls the orchestra opens the opera in a music-only sequence. This sets the scene for the remainder of the opera, for the music is what takes precedence here. The orchestra itself it seated at the front of the stage, level with the audience, creating rich and encompassing sound.
The story takes place solely within the palace of the ruler of the Tartar empire, Tamerlano (Christopher Lowrey), has taken the defeated Turkish sultan Bajazet (Hadleigh Adams) and his daughter Asteria (Emily Edmonds) prisoner. So begins our intricate web of love and tradegy, as Asteria is in love with the Greek prince Andronico (Russel Harcourt) (who returns her feelings yet is afraid to anger Tamerlano) and Tamerlano demands Asteria as his own despite already having been promised to the Greek princess Irene (Helen Sherman), and Irene is less than happy at having been shafted to Andronico… And in the case of most operas you know this isn’t going to end with everyone happy.
The opera itself is predominantly made up of solo arias, a feature recognizable from the first developments of opera- where the style moved from singers performing solo pieces into this developed style of story and multiple performers. These arias are all quite repetitive, again in that style of early Baroque. This leads to the feeling of being a slight disconnect with the story but it is interesting to experience something that is a little bit unique in its style.
Something else that was quite new to me was the presence of two counter-tenors in the leads. This was the first time I have heard this particular style of vocal performed live, and it does take a little getting used to before you settle into marveling at the handle both men have on their unique vocals. The story does lean you towards being a little less favourable to all three men though- one a proud father whose throne is lost along with any of his power, the next a cruel sleaze who thinks only of himself, and the third who proclaims a sincere and pure love and yet seems slightly swayed at times and is unable to admit his true feelings to himself yet alone to the one to which he professes love.
Here the women speak with slightly more handle on the situation and a bit more clear-headness (a bit). They also rather steal the show with their incredible vocals. My favourite performer of the evening was Andronico’s friend Idaspe (Sara Macliver). But all three women sing out the most stunning repertoires, and it is within their voices that the audiences become captured. Stand out pieces from each include Idaspe’s “Nasce rosa lusinghiera”, Asteria’s “Amare un’alma ingrate” and Irene’s “Sposa, son disprezzata”.
Almost as interesting as watching the action unfold on stage is watching the animated gesticulations of conductor (And Artistic Director) Erin Helyard, who leads the orchestra through the incredible score. This is of course helped along by the wonderful acoustics of the Recital Hall, which can be all at once perfectly silent and then fill the whole space with such a intimately close and soaring sound. This is no more evident than when throughout a particular strain of an aria the lights are dimmed to a single spotlight on the singer and the orchestra is silent, before swelling into an all encompassing sound.
This is a stunning production of Bajazet, made no less special by the knowledge that you are witnessing something that is so rarely performed. Which is a shame, as Vivaldi’s composition and his carefully selected arias create something that is truly music to your ears, and something like that should certainly not be forgotten.