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Subject: SERSE in New London
From: JOHN DEREDITA <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:JOHN DEREDITA <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 12 Jun 2011 11:30:31 -0700
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Last night 11 June, the Connecticut Early Music Festival began its 29th season with a rousing, light-hearted, staged performance of Handel's SERSE presented by Arcadia Players of western Massachusetts.
 
The orchestra of twelve--eleven strings and one oboe and recorder player--was very well conducted by Arcadia's Artistic Director, Ian Watson, from the harpsichoord.   Tempi and stage-pit coordination were appropriate throughout, and orchestral sound was well balanced and blended.  Arcadia is fortunate to have Watson, with his broad international experience, which has included conducting Monteverdi's VESPERS  for Queen Elizabeth and conducting Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and English Chamber Orchestra.  He made few cuts to the SERSE score and retained da capo repeats in those arias which have them.  (SERSE has more one-section arias and ariosos than most of Handel's operas.)
 
The humor and pathos of Handel's opera of love rivalry, crossed signals, and deception was finely conveyed by a production with singers dressed mainly in contemporary punk style by costume designer Kathleen Doyle and who under stage director/producer Eve Summer portrayed every nuance of their characters.
 
The mezzos who sang the title role (Krista River) and Serse's brother Arsamene (Glorivy Arroyo) were not dressed to completely mask their femininity, a self-reflexive touch that reminded us of theatrical illusion.  River was in a red, patterned blouse and white slacks, Arroyo in a punk leather jacket and pants but with a light green buttonless shirt.  Both sang in authentic Handelian style, with special distinction for Arroyo's richer voice.
 
As Romilda, the young woman loved by both royal brothers, Kathryn Guthrie Demos's soprano shone in high notes and accurate fioriture.  She was in a minidress with black tights, and provided side humor by sucking on a lollypop in the first act and eating lunch with rosé champagne (?) later in that act.  The lunch was served by Atalanta, Romilda's sister, sung by the excellent soprano Andrea Chenoweth.  Her high range and fluent fioriture, in arias such as "Voi mi dite che non l'ami" were even showier than Demos's.
 
The only mezzo playing a woman was rich-voiced Desiree Maira, but her character, the princess Amastre, was dressed as a man in black in all but the last scene.  She is disguised in hopes of witnessing a turnaround in Serse's abandonment of her as his fiancée.  In the final scene she takes off her pants, coat, and beret-like hat, revealing a pink minidress.  Serse abandons his quest to marry Romilda by that scene, because his order to Ariodate, the two girls' father, is misunderstood; and Ariodate has joined Romilda and Arsamene in marriage.  Serse repents and intends to marry Amastre after all, but in this staging he stays away from her on the bench and walks off without her at the end of the final chorus.
 
The two baritones were first-rate.  Laurie and I had first heard Paul Soper, our Ariodate last night, in Boston on 14 May as couturier Charles Worth in A PLACE OF BEAUTY, the opera on Isabella Stewart Gardner.  His round tone and good passagework made him a very good Ariodate.  His scenes from Act I with the chorus of warriors after the Persians' victory over Athens were cut, but he did sing Ariodate's Act I and Act II arias with distinction.  (Arcadia did SERSE in only two acts.  Ariodate's aria is in the original Act III.)
 
Young baritone Darian Worrell made a great deal of the comic role of Arsamene's servant, Elviro.  His voice, perhaps less rich than Soper's, was very well focused in his arias and in the hilarious scene when he is disguised as a flower vendor in order to convey Arsamene's letter to Romilda.  We saw no flowers, but Elviro was covered with soda-pop cans providing color and shine.  In other scene's Worrell's slim form was dressed in sport jacket and pants.  Another amusing touch in the final scene was the approach of Elviro to Atalanta, who despite her fraudulent attempt to thwart her sister and Arsamene's coupling, is left without a lover at the end.  The staging implied some possibility of an Atalanta-Elviro pairing.
 
The simple set with an upstage trellis--thick white columns and crossbars bearing lavender flowers--a blue bench, and a blue fountain--was attractive and made stage movement easy.   Set designer was Julia Noulin-Mérat.   I should mention that the surtitles, in a translation by stage director Summer, matched her staging, with updated, occasionally scatological wording that added to audience laughter.
 
Arcadia's beautifully performed, audaciously but credibly staged SERSE compared well to the NY City Opera production from the 1990's.  I'm looking forward to attending this opera in San Francisco next November. 
 
Best regards, John

John Deredita 
[log in to unmask]

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