Gasparini’s Bajazet at the Barga Festival

You are in a charming late 18th century theatre in Barga, an attractive hill town of Northern Tuscany. You have thoroughly enjoyed the first two acts of Il Bajazet by Francesco Gasparini, being given its first performance in modern times. But it is a quarter past midnight and there is still an interval and the last act to go. You thus estimate that it will finish about a quarter to two in the morning and you have a 40-mile drive to get back to your base near Lucca. What should you do? I confess that practical considerations overcame our enthusiasm and we left the theatre. We were not alone; there was a definite thinning of the audience as the performance proceeded. I should like to ask the administration of the Barga Opera Festival whether nocturnal endurance tests of this kind are the best inducements for attracting the public to such special cultural experiences.

It was a great pity because the piece itself, dating from 1719, was very much worth reviving – it bore resemblances to the music of Handel who is said to have been influenced by it and who produced his own version of the libretto as Tamerlano – and considerable effort and imagination had been invested into the preparation of the performance. The conductor Carlo Ipata, who had also edited the manuscript score, offered a lively interpretation and the Orchestra Auser Musici revealed themselves as musicians very much at home with the idiom. With the exception of a blustering tenor in the title role, the singers were all excellent musically and dramatically. Outstanding was Giuseppina Bridelli as Asteria – her brilliant rendering of the “Go; no stay” aria in Act One was the highlight of the performance (or rather those parts of it which I heard). The production by Paola Rota was satisfying: limited movements on a predominantly bare stage, but employing images from museums (picture frames) and the theatre (footlights and crimson curtains) to underpin the contrasting themes of political convention and individual revolt.