Bajazet at St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork, by the Irish National Opera
Antonio Vivaldi, best known for his violin concertos, is enjoying a renaissance in the world of opera lately. After their success with Griselda, the Irish National Opera returned to the vault to revive a second portion of the lyrical work of the “Red Priest”.
Bajazet is a “pasticcio”, the 18th century equivalent of a musical jukebox, a compilation of arias by Vivaldi and borrowings from his Neapolitan rivals. The plot picks up the story after the Battle of Ankara in the 15th century when the Turkish sultan, Bajazet, was defeated by the Mongol warlord, Tamerlano, aided by the Greek prince, Andronicus. There are conflicting loyalties, complicated love triangles, a murder plot, suicide, and reconciliations to top it all off.
The Irish National Opera has brought together an exceptional cast of six singers. It’s delicate stuff with an abundance of high-energy, fast-coloratura arias and melting, languorous largos. Florentine bass-baritone Gianluca Margheri is captivating in the title role. Hearing a countertenor would be exciting enough, but we had the luxury of two of those rare voices.
James Laing is delightfully obnoxious as a swaggering Tamerlane. Eric Jurenas as Andronicus was clear as a bell in the acoustics of the gothic stone vaulted space. Irish singer Aoife Miskelly sang Idaspe and Cork native Niamh O’Sullivan was suitably majestic as Princess Asteria. British soprano Claire Booth as abandoned fiancé, Princess Irene oozed anger and pathos in her vocal fireworks. The actors were so effective in portraying their characters that I didn’t find the concert format to be limited to having a clear sense of the drama.
The Irish Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Peter Whelan matched the firepower of the cast and everything vibrates brilliantly. If I had to pick a moment, I loved Asteria’s aria in Act 2, La Cervetta timidetta with solo violin and continuo accompaniment.
In a precarious time for opera, it was a special thrill to hear these exceptional performers sing this rare work in this wondrous venue. Catch it if you can.