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The Sunday Opera: Antonio Vivaldi's "Bajazet" from The Royal Opera

Bazajet, his daughter Asteria, and Tamerlane and the gardens of Bursa...
Bazajet, his daughter Asteria, and Tamerlane and the gardens of Bursa...

Antonio Vivaldi is the featured composer on this week’s Sunday Opera (7/31 3:00 p.m.). None of Vivaldi’s nearly 50 operas (16 of which are complete) have ever been seen at the Met, so this will probably be another new work for many listeners.

The opera is “Bajazet” (pronounced Ba-zha-zet), and it premiered in 1735. The story is incredibly complicated, but suffice it to say that the title character of Emperor Bajazet (Bayezid I) of Bursa who was the leader of the Ottoman Turks is at the whims of his captor Emperor Tamerlane (Timur Lenk), who is the leader of the Uzbek Turks.

Caught up in the conflict is Bajazet’s daughter Asteria who is in love with a Greek prince named Andronicus, an ally of Tamerlane. Tamerlane has decided that he wants Asteria for a wife although he’s promised to Princess Irene, which obviously upsets Irene.

It gets a little messy in each act when, in a Hallmark Christmas movie plot twist, Asteria hears Andronicus trying to protect her at the wrong time and thinks that he’s being unfaithful.

This results in Asteria saying she’ll marry Tamerlane so that she can poison him, but he’s warned in time, and she tries to take the poison. Andronicus grabs the poisoned wine from her leading Tamerlane to believe that he is plotting with her, and they are sentenced to death.

However, as often happens in these things, Bajazet commits suicide with his portion of the poison, and his death prompts Tamerlane to feel compassion. He allows Andronicus and Asteria to wed and fulfills his obligation to Irene who will take him back even if he is totally untrustworthy.

The final cast member is Idaspe who is a friend of Andronicus who seems to just be a messenger who delivers news and plot twists at important intervals.

The cast from this Royal Opera House Covent Garden production includes Gianluca Margheri as Bajazet, Francesco Giusti as Tamerlane, Niamh O’Sullivan as Asteria, Eric Jurenas as Andronicus, Rachel Kelly as Irene, and Aoife Miskelly as Idaspe. The musical accompaniment is provided by the Irish Baroque Orchestra and is conducted by Peter Whelan.

Stay tuned after the opera when Michael Kownacky will be bringing you more familiar music of Vivaldi.

If you’ve ever sung in a high school or college chorus, you’ve probably sung Vivaldi’s Gloria in D major which, for many years, was a staple of choruses. This nostalgia trip for Michael is from a delightful recording features sopranos Lynda Russell and Gillian Fisher and alto Alison Browner. They’re joined by The Sixteen led by Harry Christopher.

Our second piece is extremely familiar although it’s rarely heard in its complete form and almost never with the sonnets written by Vivaldi on which he based his music for the Concerti for Violins, Strings, and Continuo, Op. 8 1-4 which is better known as “The Four Seasons.” In this recording, Patrick Stewart is the narrator reading the sonnets before each movement. He’s joined by Steven Alltop on the harpsichord and Musica Anima. Arnie Roth conducts and plays the violin solo. Hearing Vivaldi’s text, followed by his music, truly illustrates his deft composition abilities and explains some of the interesting changes found in each season.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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