Handel: Tamerlano; documentaries,

LABELS: Arthaus
WORKS: Tamerlano; documentaries,
PERFORMER: Bacelli, Randle, Bonitatibus; The English Concert/Trevor Pinnock; dir.Jonathan Miller (Halle Handel Festival,2001)
This beautifully recorded DVD was filmed at the Goethe Theatre at Bad Lauchstadt, during last year’s Halle Handel Festival. Miller’s approach to Handel’s tragedy demonstrates philosophical intelligence and an understanding of the opera’s 18th-century aesthetic. In a fascinating interview Miller reveals his erudite perspective, and it is true that many tiresome pitfalls of staging Baroque opera seria are avoided thanks to his diligent, unaffected observation of soliloquy convention. It is curious to observe that Miller’s determination to keep things simple is more effective on DVD than it was in the theatre, where its restraint lacked adequate animation to support a mental conflict devoid of physical action. Handel’s three acts are merged into two halves — a decision that considerably impedes the dramatic flow of the composer’s intended structure — but the music is generally well performed, with outstanding contributions from Thomas Randle, Anna Bonitatibus and the English Concert. The close-miked singers have benefited from some post-production reverberation (the Goethe Theatre acoustic is nothing like the sound presented here). Documentaries on Halle (Handel’s birthplace) and the history of the festival include some fascinating historical footage and interviews with scholars and conductors such as Gardiner, McGegan and Jacobs. Unfortunately these are marred by a lack of cohesive strategy, appalling editing and discrepancies with the documentation. Arthaus should ensure its ‘extras’ are genuinely worthwhile enhancements. David Vickers