Tamerlano - Synopsis

Georg Friedrich Händel: Tamerlano Georg Friedrich Händel: Tamerlano Georg Friedrich Händel: Tamerlano. David Daniels


Georg Friedrich Händel
Nicola Francesco Haym after Agostino Piovene and Ippolito Zanelli


Part One

Tamerlano, the ruler of the Tartars, has defeated the Turkish sultan Bajazet in the Battle of Ankara, and Bajazet and his daughter, Asteria, have been taken captive and have been living in Tamerlano’s palace ever since. The heir to the Greek throne, Andronico, who is Tamerlano’s ally, tries to make Bajazet’s lot as a prisoner a little easier, for he and Asteria are in love with each other.

In order to reward Andronico for his services, Tamerlano offers him the hand of Irene, the heiress to the throne of Trabisond, in marriage. He is, in fact, himself betrothed to Irene but has fallen in love with Asteria and has therefore decided against allying himself with Irene, the princess whom he has never seen. When Tamerlano approaches Asteria, making clear his intentions towards her and informing her that Andronico is to marry Irene, Asteria feels that she has been betrayed by Andronico.

Irene learns from Andronico of Tamerlano’s change of heart. With the help of his friend Leone, Andronico persuades Irene to pretend to be her own messenger, thus remaining unknown to Tamerlano while perhaps being able to win him back.

Tamerlano informs Andronico that Asteria has agreed to marry him. Andronico fears that Asteria is lost to him and places all his hopes in Bajazet, who would never agree to a marriage between Asteria and Tamerlano.

Leone presents Irene, in disguise, as the messenger and confidante of Tamerlano’s betrothed, and she accuses the ruler and Asteria of having done Irene great wrong. Tamerlano acknowledges his guilt with regard to the way he has treated Irene but insists that marriage to the Greek prince is a perfectly acceptable alternative for the princess. Irene, on the other hand, is not yet prepared to give up her hope of marrying Tamerlano.

Part Two

Bajazet reproaches Andronico bitterly for not having prevented Asteria from agreeing to become Tamerlano’s wife and is determined at all costs to prevent his daughter from marrying his enemy.

Bajazet angrily confronts Tamerlano and Asteria and a bitter quarrel ensues between him and his enemy. Andronico and Irene now openly hold Asteria in contempt, and Bajazet challenges his daughter to complete her acts of treachery by killing him. Asteria can now no longer disguise her true feelings and declares that she only pretended to accept Tamerlano’s offer of marriage in order to be able to get near to him and kill him. While Bajazet, Andronico and Irene offer Asteria their apologies, Tamerlano announces that he will punish Bajazet and Asteria cruelly.

Bajazet manages to give Asteria some of the poison that he carries secretly about his person so that she can avoid further humiliation at Tamerlano’s hand by taking her life.

Tamerlano’s feelings for Asteria have not changed; he is prepared to give her a second chance. Now, however, Andronico can no longer hide his feelings and openly declares his love to Asteria. When Asteria also admits that she is in love with the prince, Tamerlano’s love changes to hate and he gives orders that Bajazet should be executed and Asteria handed over to the slaves. Asteria begs him to spare her father’s life, which leads to another outburst of anger at Tamerlano on the part of Bajazet. Tamerlano changes his mind and decides to publicly humiliate Asteria, Bajazet and Andronico.

Leone encourages Irene to claim the place at Tamerlano’s side which has now become vacant; but Irene is not convinced that Tamerlano has inwardly given up all hope of Asteria.

Tamerlano orders Asteria to wait on him like a slave and hand him his cup. Asteria secretly pours the poison she got from her father into the cup, but Irene observes her doing this and warns Tamerlano, at the same time finally revealing to him her own true identity. Tamerlano orders Asteria to let her father or her lover take the first drink from the cup, thus foiling Asteria’s second attempt to kill him. Andronico manages at the last minute to prevent Asteria from poisoning herself in her despair. In order to humiliate his enemies even further, Tamerlano gives orders that Asteria should be raped by slaves for her father to witness her shame.

Bajazet now sees only one way to defeat Tamerlano. He swallows the poison he is carrying and, with his dying breath, threatens his enemy with revenge from the grave.

Moved by the horror of Bajazet‘s suicide, Tamerlano comes to his senses. He decides to marry Irene and pardons Asteria and Andronico.

Ingrid Zellner
© Bavarian State Opera