Handel: Tamerlano on DVD
by Peter Grahame Woolf

Monica Bacelli, Thomas Randle, Grahame Pushee, Anna Bonitatibus, Elisabeth Norberg-Schulz, Antonio Abete
The English Concert -conducter Trevor Pinnock
Stage Director: Jonathan Miller
Costumes: Judy Levin
"The Making of Tamerlano" film by Martina Mattick-Stiller
Arthaus 100 702 192 min + Extras (Total: 323 min)

Whether or not you are a Handel devotee I would urge you to acquire this remarkable production of a great tragic masterpiece of 1725; as fine a demonstration of the 2002 state of the DVD art as you will find, and a great bargain for 323 minutes high quality entertainment and education (£28 from Amazon UK). CD-pluscore has not caught on widely yet, although it has much to offer; the first example I reviewed had the scores of Beethoven sonatas, the pages turning automatically as Pollini played, a very splendid presentation (DGG 435 472-2). BBC Music Review has regularly offered additional study material with its cover CDs, a great bargain if you have time to read all the material.

Now we have an extraordinary DVD from Arthaus, celebrating the 50 years of the Handel-Festspiele at Halle in Eastern Germany with the 2001 production of Tamerlano by the English specialist, Trevor Pinnock, with his The English Consort. There is a plethora of extras, historical clips from the festival through the years (those from the 2001 dress rehearsal of Rodrigo produced by Axel Kohler with colourful modernist sets by Heinz Balthes whet the appetite for a DVD of that one), interviews with eminent Handelians and, most significantly for me, the availability on the screen of the score, reproduced by permission of the publishers, Bärenreiter, which can be selected as an alternative to the usual subtitles in language of choice - you click on 'others' and the score passes before your eyes as the singers continue to be seen, as fainter ghost-like images, behind the music. This is particularly useful for replaying particular passages and arias; the melodic line as published is plain, and you will appreciate the artistry the singers bring to embellishing it. The viewing choice also brings an element of visual variety and interest to the arias, which are, by convention, often static and repetitive.

This is a live filming at the Goethe Theatre in Bad Lauchstädt, a fashionable spa town near Halle, of a production which was also given in Paris and London. The poet provided part of the funds for the building of the 1802 theatre, which has wooden baroque stage machinery, faithfully reconstructed to allow swift scene changes without dropping the curtain. Jonathan Miller's production updates the 15 C. events to the time of European orientalism, Handel's own, with exotic costumes by Judy Levin which are a particular pleasure. The Halle/London link is emphasised in an excellent 40 min documentary film from both cities made by Martina Mattlick-Stiller, and you are brought close into the developing production in rehearsals at Sadlers Wells taken by Pinnock and Miller.

The performance is in the best specialist hands available and the singers all acquit themselves well; I do not feel it necessary to go into the minutiae of individual performances.

Peter Grahame Woolf is a classical music writer based in London.

© Peter Grahame Woolf 2002.

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