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Subject: Xerxes comes to Coooperstown and sadly is cut to shreds (8-12-17)
From: Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 13 Aug 2017 10:45:35 -0400

text/plain (70 lines)

Last night we attended Handel's Xerxes which offered up a brilliant cast led by John Holiday in the title role. The production was fine, if a bit minimalist with some large stone slabs looking a cut apart building across the rear being moved at various angles (I thought these were deteriorating as the love triangle got worse and might come together as a palace at the end, but the final scene had no slabs!) as well as a silvery metal tree that started out at the center, rose up and later returned upside down.

My qualms were, however, not with the set, direction or singing, it was with the way the cuts were made in the music. It's fine to cut an aria and occasionally even a repeat, but here we sometimes had just one verse or several lines from an aria then it stopped. At times, the audience (and I) were unsure if we should even applaud as the character sang so little or a snippet of an opening or closing verse. Handel is long and there is nothing wrong with using a chef's paring knife to delicately remove the fat; here it was a machete used to hack through a jungle and leave much of the vines strewn about.

Conductor Nicole Paiement
Director Tazewell Thompson
Sets John Conklin
Costumes Sara Jean Tosetti
Lighting Robert Wierzel
Hair & Makeup J. Jared Janas & Dave Bova
Projected Text Kelley Rourke

Xerxes John Holiday Jr.
Arsamenes Allegra De Vita
Romilda Emily Pogorelc
Amastris Abigail Dock
Atalanta Katrina Galka
Ariodates Brent Michael Smith
Elviro Calvin Griffin

From the moment the curtain rose, Mr. Holiday owned the stage in a grand and regal glittering gold and red gown over a midnight blue velveteen robe with sleeves that came through the overgarment. His chest was partly bare with a large golden chain; he was a king. The opera starts with "Ombra mai fu" and I could have gone home happy right then and there as I had tingles running up and down my spine throughout, especially on his high note for "piu" near the end. It was simply blissful, impressive and amazing, not to mention deliciously sustained. He held a metal-like branch that matched the suspended tree.

Ms. De Vita's Arsamenes had quilted pants with codpiece, a paisley-ish cape, sword and a velvety vest. Once again the makeup crew had her so convincingly male! Our Romilda, Ms. Pogorelc, had a large black floral gown with red sash and revealing cleavage as she sounded more refined than ever with lilting coloratura and superb high notes.

Ms. Dock's Amastris was in black with a hood (to disguise herself) and Mr. Smith's Ariodates looked more like a Persian high priest in a robe, sash, long beard and high "yarmulke" like hat.

Ms. De Vita finally got a chance to get through an aria with "Non so sia la speme" (please excuse any misspellings of arias as it's been so long since I last saw Xerxes and forgot many of them!) which reminded me of Tatiana Troyanos decades ago!

Ms. Galka's Atalanta also had a large bulky floral gown and gone some good singing in albeit cut short.

Mr. Griffin's Elviro added some comedy, especially when he came down the aisle selling flowers.

Eventually we got to another full aria from Mr. Holiday who was amazingly fast and agile with it.

This was actually Act II, scene iii from the original where the intermission was placed for this production. No problem with this as two acts are always welcome, and there is no real plot requirement to break the acts.

Act II brought Romilda back in a red gown for "L'amero..." where the rage really showed in her voice and she reached amazing vocal heights in the lines "l'anima mia." 

Ms. Galka also got a chance at a full luscious aria and even our bass, Mr. Griffin, got one chance to shine in his aria about Bacchus.

Mr. Holiday returned in a gorgeous blue silky robe (which later revealed crotch high golden boots and matching codpiece) for a duet with Ms.Dock and alas Romilda's next aria was one line! At least she was allowed to join Arsamene for their duet of reunion as Atalanta cried that everyone hates her (which was quite funny!).

Ms. De Vita's "Amor tiranno..." was another highlight and then Ms. Dock has her best singing all evening in her lament.

In Mr. Holiday's aria of anger just before the reconciliation ("Crudel...") his anger was complete with his eyes almost on fire as his gorgeous counter-tenor filled the house with superb coloratura.

Romilda & Arsamenes return in silver lame robes and eventually Amstris removes her black male garb to reveal a similar dress as Xerxes chokes seeing his wife! This was also quite funny. Romilda and Arsamenes are in front of the curtain for a short, "Caro dolce.." and then the curtain rose to reveal all for the short tutti finale.

So--super singing, magnificent orchestra, gorgeous costumes, visually satisfying production but nothing that was blow your mind, but sadly some poor choices in the cuts. An truly enjoyable evening and I have to say that our 14-year old and his best friend truly enjoyed their first Handel opera, so credit to the Glimmerglass team for achieving that!

ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC

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