, first performed at the King’s Theatre on 31 October 1724, was the successor to Giulio Cesare
. Though no less masterly, it is more austere in style, requiring no special orchestral colours or elaborate stage spectacle. The action of Haym’s libretto (based on a French tragedy by J N Pradon, one of Racine’s rivals) takes place in Prusa (now Bursa in modern Turkey) and deals with the conflict between the captured Ottoman emperor Bajazet, his daughter Asteria and the Tartar conqueror Tamerlane. With Handel’s music it achieves a dramatic intensity unparalleled in any comparable work of the period. The Overture sets the tragic mood with a particularly dark opening section and an Allegro based on the corresponding movement in the Sonata which begins the Chandos anthem Have mercy upon me
. A brief bridge passage leads to a concluding minuet. Throughout the opera Tamerlane attempts to use threats against Bajazet to gain the hand of Asteria, who is thus faced with a series of agonizing dilemmas. At the start of Act 3 Bajazet gives Asteria some poison he has been keeping for himself, begging her to join him in taking it if Tamerlane attempts to assault her. She agrees, but in the aria ‘Cor di padre’ she reflects that though such an act would keep her true to her father and to her real lover, the Greek prince Andronicus, she would lose them both. Jagged leaps and sharp dynamic contrasts in the string accompaniment suggest her anguish.
from notes by Anthony Hicks © 1996