Georg Handel’s Opera “Amir Temur”

Issue #4 • 1461

Akmal Saidov 

More than 60 works of different genres were created about the Great Central Asian statesman and warlord – Amir Temur, in the last four centuries (XVI – XX cc.) in Western Europe. All of them are equally entitled and have the same storyline (1). It is these works that introduced Western audiences with a unique story, saturated with amazing events of the past, on the one hand and on the other they provide information about the geography, politics and culture of our region in those years, and thus form the attitude towards the East.
25Writers, playwrights and composers of the West had an ambiguous approach to the interpretation of the life and activity of Amir Temur. In the sources that they used, the image of the military commander was treated in a very peculiar way, in many cases – in highly confusing manner. Perhaps that is why in the literary and artistic works the image of Amir Temur is diverse and multifaceted.
The three-act opera of the famous German composer George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) “Amir Temur” (2) is still little known in Uzbekistan. Composer created it on the basis of the libretto of the famous violinist-librettist Nicola Francesco Khaimah (1678-1729) in Italian language. The work was written by G. Handel in June of 1724 within 20 days. For the first time this opera was performed on 31st of October of that same year at the Theatre Royal in London.
The creation and performance of the opera is an important period in the life and creative activity of G. Handel. In the 1720-1728, he worked as the director of the Royal Academy of Music in England. Immediately upon his appointment to this post, G. Handel went to Germany, where he invited the troupe of actors and singers from Hanover, Halle, Dresden, and Dusseldorf. Upon completion of the troupe, Handel continued his fervent work as a composer and begun to write the operas. On April 27, 1720, his opera “Rhadamistus” was performed in Haymarket, which he had dedicated to the King. However, the same year the Italian composer Giovanni Bononcini, whose opera “Astarte” had a great success, had arrived in London and for some time overshadowed the creativity of Handel (3). Although G. Handel also wrote in Italian, a dramatically pronounced rivalry between him and Bononcini had increased. Nobility at the court, being in disagreement with the King, and therefore showing aggressive attitude towards G. Handel, as well, took the side of the Italian composer. All subsequent operas written by G. Handel, except for the opera “Julius Caesar”, went flop.
In order to mitigate the existing situation, G. Handel had invited two Italian singers Faustina Bordoni and Francesca Cuzzoni to the main parties in his opera “Alessandro”, which had been performed on May 5, 1721. In our view, as a result of such a serious creative friction, G. Handel had decided to turn to the figure of Amir Temur.
Author of the first “Amir Temur” opera is Italian composer Agostino Piovene (1617-1721), adaptation of libretto of N.F. Khaimah. Music for the “Amir Temur” opera was written by the famous Italian composer Francesco Gasparini (1668-1727) during the upheaval period of his creative inspiration – at the age of 49 years.
The luminary of Italian music of the XVIII century – Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), had turned to the libretto of the Italian in 1735 to compose music for “Amir Temur”. A. Piovene himself, while working on his opus, was inspired by the tragedy “Amir Temur or death of Bayezid” (4, p. 72), written in 1676 by the French playwright Jacques (sometimes named as Nicolas) Pradon (1644-1698), a disciple and countryman of Pierre Corneille. Some sources indicate that the author was inspired by the similarly-titled play of the English playwright and poet Nicolas Rowe (1). This stage work by its popularity competed with the classics of Shakespeare. The interpretation of the heroic image of Amir Temur was done through the prism of the relationship between the protagonist and Asteria – daughter of Bayezid.
Libretto by A. Pioveni “Amir Temur” (1711) had become widely known, which is evidenced by the fact that later on it was adapted and completed by other 15 composers, including Fortunato Celleri (1720), Leonardo Leo (1722), Giovanni Antonio Nini (1728), Nicola Porpora (1730), Antonio Vivaldi (1735), G. Bernasconi (1754), G. Scolari and Pietro Guglielmi (1764), Antonio Sacchini (1773), Ferdinando Paer (1796), Giovanni Tadonini (1818), Antonio Sapienza (1824), etc.
Among the composers, who first noticed the libretto of A. Piovene, were Marc Antonio Ziani (1689), Francesco Gasparini (1717) and Georg Frideric Handel (1724). There is an assumption that before beginning work on his piece of music, G. Handel could have familiarized himself with Alessandro Scarlatti’s opera “The Great Amir Temur” written in Italian based on the libretto by Antonio Salvi (1664-1724), since the libretto was also taken from the play of J. Pradon and staged in Florence in 1706. G. Handel was in Florence at the same period.
Complicated plot of the opera by G. Handel is unfolding around events occurring between Amir Temur and his prisoner – Sultan of the Ottoman Turks, Yildirim Bayezid. The events are dating back to 1402, location is the city of Bursa in the northwestern part of Anatolia. The introductory part of the opera – Overture (musical introduction – A.S.) and Minuet (old French dance and music to it – A.S.). The first act: defeated, chained Yildirim Bayezid is at the feet of Amir Temur. The latter orders Andronicus to remove the shackles from Bayezid, who is wary of the magnanimous gesture of the winner. He does not believe him.
Amir Temur in every possible way tries to show mercy to his enemy. Bayezid due to his humiliating situation, craves for death, but does not have right to kill himself: there is a good reason that stops him from doing so – his daughter Asteria (born from the union of Koios and Phoebe – A.S.) is also in captivity.
Amir Temur decides to marry Asteria. He ordered Andronicus to obtain at any cost the consent of the girl and her father Bayezid to this marriage. In return for his efforts, if successful, he promises to appoint Andronicus as the King of Greece and to marry him to Irene (born from the union of Zeus and Themis – A.S.).
However, prior to these events and conversation with the lord, Andronicus and Asteria vowed eternal love to each other, deciding to unite their destinies. Now Andronicus is in a difficult situation, while Irene is passionately fond of Amir Temur and together with Asteria is seeking a way out of this situation, acceptable for all, by plotting a cunning plan.
The second act of the play begins with a scene, in which Amir Temur informs Andronicus that Asteria has agreed to become his wife. Andronicus and Bayezid are furious, and Amir Temur is delighted. Father and groom unaware of the cunning conspiracy of Asteria are angry at her. In the meantime, Asteria dreams of the day when she will poison Amir Temur, liberate her father from imprisonment and marry her beloved Andronicus. Irene believes that Asteria wants to help her to become the favorite wife of Amir Temur. Learning about the intentions of Asteria, Amir Temur gives up the idea to marry her, which pleased Andronicus and Bayezid. Irene nourishes hopes that now she has opportunity to realize her dream.
In the third act Bayezid and his daughter Asteria, wanting to escape from captivity, are trying to poison themselves. Looking at their cruel sufferings, Andronicus openly expresses his discontent to Amir Temur. Amir Temur is outraged by their act.
However, willing to show that he, Amir Temur, harbor no grudge against neither Andronicus nor Bayezid and Asteria, he invites all three to a sumptuous feast. Alas, someone secretly poison the goblets of wine. Once Andronicus and Asteria bring goblets to their lips, Irene is pushing them with force. The goblets fall down. Whereas Bayezid has already drunk a poisoned drink.
Amir Temur, after witnessing this sad spectacle, forgives them and grants them with his mercy. The opera ends with the marriage of Amir Temur to Irene, his blessing of Andronicus and Asteria and awarding them with the kingdom. The peace and tranquility are restored for many years…
The first performers in this opera were the best soloists of the Italian opera theater. Leading singers: tenor – Francesco Borosini (Bayezid), alto – Antonio Bernaccio (Amir Temur), soprano – Maria Benti Bulgarelli (Asteria), soprano – Faustina Bordoni (Irene). Thanks to their mastery, the opera was successful and had gained general recognition.
The sixth season of the Royal Conservatory was opened by G. Handel’s opera “Amir Temur”. A stellar performing troupe of the theater included Andrea Pachini (Amir Temur), Francesca Cuzzoni (Asteria), Anna Vincenza Dotti (Irene), and tenor Francesco Borosini (Bayezid) from the previous troupe.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the figure of Amir Temur in the stage and musical works of the West is represented as a positive, strong, honest, kind and highly intelligent military commander. Of particular note is that the European audience has warmly welcomed the theatrical interpretation of the image of Amir Temur.
It seems that it would be appropriate to translate to Uzbek language the libretto of the Georg Frideric Handel’s opera “Amir Temur” that would be an important contribution to the study and promotion of drama and music of the Western Europe about our legendary centuries-long history and our military commander Amir Temur.

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