A Compelling Cast Shines in Frankfurt Opera’s Xerxes

03/02/2019

Handel, Xerxes: Frankfurter Opern- und Museumorchester / Constantinos Carydis (conductor), Opernhaus, Frankfurt, 2.2.2019. (JMI)

Frankfurt Opera’s Xerxes © B. Aumüller

Production:

Direction – Tilmann Köhler
Sets – Karoly Risz
Costumes – Susanne Uhl
Lighting – Joachim Klein

Cast:

Xerxes – Zanda Švēde
Arsamene – Lawrence Zazzo
Romilda – Louise Alder
Amastre – Katharina Magiera
Atalanta – Elizabeth Sutphen
Elviro – Thomas Faulkner
Ariodate – Božidar Smiljanić

Although this Handel opera bears the title of an ancient warrior king, its plot has little to do with historical or heroic events. Rather, it is basically a comedy with a complicated plot that is not so easy to follow. Ariodate, who reports to King Xerxes, has two daughters, Romilda and Atalanta; both are in love with Arsamene, the King’s brother, who favors Romilda. At the same time, Xerxes has a fiancée, Amastre, whom he abandons in favor of Romilda. From all this confusion spring the many problems faced by the main characters. The opera is full of misunderstandings, but there is a happy ending, except for Atalanta, the only one who doesn’t get what she wants.

It really is best to stage Xerxes as a comedy and not as a drama. It was offered that way with great success in the Martin Duncan production which I saw in Munich at the 2006 Opera Festival. Here, on the other hand, the production narrates the plot quite seriously which, in my opinion, is not a good idea. These Baroque operas demand a great deal of creativity on the part of stage directors.

This Tilmann Köhler production premiered in Frankfurt two years ago. It is not particularly imaginative, and almost turns into a concert version with rudimentary sets and contemporary costumes. The first two acts feature a large banquet table, and the characters can be found around or on it. The table disappears in Act III and is replaced by chairs. The extras and the chorus are both placed in the pit.

Conductor Constantinos Carydis’s reading was correct, but it too lacked imagination. If anything has characterized the last 30 years in the world of opera, it has been the appearance of great conductors in the Baroque, who have managed to rescue these operas from oblivion. However, the orchestra gave a fine performance under his baton.

The character of King Xerxes was played by mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde, new to the Frankfurt Opera, and she made a positive impression. Her voice is attractive and well handled, and she is a fine actress too.

The interpreter of Arsamene, the brother of Xerxes and his rival in love affairs, was played by American countertenor Lawrence Zazzo. He has always been a remarkable singer and still is, although his voice is not as fresh as it once was.

The part of Romilda part was performed by soprano Louise Alder, who was well-suited to the role. Mezzo-soprano Katharina Magiera was remarkable in the part of Amastre, with an appealing voice and good volume. An excellent singer who moves well on stage, she has been one of the main performers at the Frankfurt Opera in recent years.

Soprano Elizabeth Sutphen was quite good in the part of Atalanta. She is a light soprano, who sings in a very expressive way and has no problem with coloratura, although her top notes can be rather metallic. Thomas Faulkner was a convincing Elviro, as was Božidar Smiljanić as Ariodate.

José M. Irurzun 

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