Xerxes

By Manning, Gillian | Restoration and 18th Century Theatre Research, Summer 2016 | Go to article overview

Xerxes


Manning, Gillian, Restoration and 18th Century Theatre Research


Review of George Frideric Handels Xerxes (Kings Theatre, London, 1738). Conducted by Jonathan Peter Kenny. Directed by James Conway, English Touring Opera, The Northcott Theatre, Exeter, November 22nd 2016.

For some years now, English Touring Opera (ETO) have focussed on baroque works for their autumn productions. Partnered by the Old Street Band-currently one of the most esteemed baroque orchestras-ETO have won a deservedly high reputation for their excellent and extensive work in this field. In addition to Xerxes (now revived for a second time), their 2016 autumn program at the Northcott Theatre comprised Monteverdis Ulysses' Homecoming, and Cavalli s La Calisto, while they also presented in Exeter Cathedral a much-praised, semi-staged performance of Bach's St John Passion, drawing on additional singers from local choirs for the choruses and chorales, in accordance with their well-established outreach remit.

In keeping with ETOs policy of singing in English, the libretto used in Xerxes is Nicholas Hytner's witty, pacey translation of Silvio Stampiglias original (1694), an Italian text which had been employed in several Venetian operas before Handel chose to use it. This translation was first devised for Hytner s and David Fielding's celebrated production of Xerxes for English National Opera (1985). Conway pays tribute in his program notes to their "landmark production" which occasioned many, equally successful, revivals. He stresses, however, that his own production seeks to diverge from earlier interpretations in its emphasis on the operas finely balanced, serio-comic concerns with love and war.

In some respects, though, this revival may seem weighted rather heavyhandedly towards the comic. Thus, the potential gravity of Conways Battle of Britain setting, complete with an onstage Spitfire, is early undercut by his punning concept of having King Xerxes address the operas most famous aria, "Ombra mai fu," to his plane (as he lies, a bit awkwardly beneath its wing), rather than to the verdant plane tree of Stampiglias text. (Admittedly, Conway in his notes begs our "indulgence" for this jeu desprit. …

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