Clive Paget and Pinchgut Opera’s Erin Helyard consider who was the real winner.

J uly 20, 1402 was a black day for the Ottoman Empire but a red-letter day for baroque opera. In the bloody Battle of Ankara, Sultan Bayezid the First was defeated and captured by his arch-rival, the Mongol warlord Timur. Bayezid (or Bajazet as we will call him) had already trounced the Holy Roman Empire and bottled the Byzantines up in Constantinople, so his downfall was a cause for celebration in the West. Timur (or Tamerlano) would only outlive his enemy by three years, but the story surrounding the protagonists at this precise moment in history would inspire writers and composers for centuries – a moral tale of hubris, revenge, lust and some embellished romantic passion.

Although historians from Tamerlano’s ‘court’ claim Bajazet was treated well, the West loved a tale of blood and guts and so a gory myth emerged that would prove far stronger than any inconvenient facts. In Marlowe’s play Tamburlaine the Great(1587) the Elizabethan dramatist has Bajazet taken to Samarkand, kept in a cage, fed scraps from his captor’s table and even used as a footstool. The victim...

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