Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Handel - Xerxes / Nicholas Hytner Sir Charles Mackerras Ann Murray Lesley Garrett ENO|
Actors: Ann Murray, Valerie Masterson, Christopher Robson, Jean Rigby, Lesley Garrett
Director: John Michael Phillips
Genres: Comedy, Musicals & Performing Arts
Nicholas Hytner's highly innovative production of Handel's comic opera won the coveted Laurence Olivier Opera Award. This live recording from the English National Opera stars Ann Murray as Xerxes, whose love for Romilda, s... more »
A must for all Handel lovers
Barry D. Steben | Singapore | 06/02/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is an unforgettable production of a beautiful operatic work that is worth watching over and over. As for many people, my desire to see the opera grew out of my love for the famous recitative and aria with which it begins, Ombra mai fù, which is a standard part of the repertory for those who study vocal music. It is only through Amazon.com, however, that I found out that Xerxes is considered one of Handel's best operas. The orchestration, under the masterful baton of Sir Charles Mackerras, is profoundly moving, and the singing by all the principals is out of this world -- even if the opening piece, in Ann Murray's hands and in English translation, lacks the emotive power it has been given by great baritones like Bryn Terfel and China's Liao Chang Yong. I was a bit apprehensive when I saw this opera billed as a comedy, but it turned out to have all of the dramatic intensity and depth of character portrayal of a "serious" opera. It has its humor, indeed, but, as we would expect of Handel, it is humor of a subtle nature that never leans even slightly toward the vulgar or farcical. The work's classification as a comedy derives mainly from its non-serious subject matter -- a hopeless tangle of love triangles centering on a very unkingly king (played by Ann Murray) and his handsome brother -- and from the fact that the many conflicts and deceptions that move the plot to its near-tragic climax are all somehow resolved in the end in a happy ending. Certainly, for a modern audience, to hear Handel writing the same sort of music that he later used to praise God in Messiah to tell a story about sexual lust and intersibling sexual rivalry also adds the sort of comic touch that arises from the unexpected juxtaposition of the realms of the sacred and the profane. This is truly a masterful opera, and I found myself thinking that Baroque opera, with all its elegance and its stylized acting and staging conventions, in a certain way occupies a higher artistic plane than the much more realistic and complex operas of romantic masters like Verdi and Puccini. And Handel was the unquestioned master of baroque opera. This particular performance of the opera is remarkable not only for its musical perfection, but also for the unique and highly effective staging and sets, designed with a masterful sense of aesthetic contrast, balance, taste and symmetry that somehow combines a pre-modern (classical and aristocratic) spirit with a modern egalitarianism and a postmodern determination to break beyond the conventional. The sets throughout are gently dominated by the color green, echoing the theme of the first scene where King Xerxes' extols his passionate love for his plane tree in the garden. This passionate love seems to spread out to the whole world of vegetation that the tree represents, and then, with a seemless continuity, to the woman Xerxes falls in love with when he hears her singing outside the garden. Romilda also emerges from the surrounding vegetation into the garden and, like the plane tree, is also blossoming forth in the springtime of youth. "Ombra mai fù, di vegetabile, cara ed amabile, soave più" : Never was the shade of a growing thing more dear and charming, more sweet!). The set designer, David Fielding, adds one of his subtle touches of humor in portraying the king's beloved plane tree as a rather scraggly little adolescent tree in a large pot, which, as yet at least, is not capable of giving any real shade even to the little patch of ground under its branches, let alone to the King of Persia. Perhaps this foreshadows the fact that Xerxes in the end never gets his longed-for Romilda, whose green nuptial shadow falls instead on the king's brother, the one she really loved. The other use of color in the staging of the opera is one of the most striking effects I have even seen in a recorded stage production. The main characters are made to stand out from the supporting characters by appearing in full and natural color --both their faces and their elegant vestments. In contrast, there are two categories of supporting roles (obviously consisting of the members of the chorus), one dressed in black with their faces painted in pure white and their hair covered by white plastic so they appear bald. These figures stand or move elegantly but drolly around the stage performing the roles of servants, but with an air of dignity, individuality, and slight bemusement that immediately endears them to the audience. Then there is another type of secondary actor who are literally "background characters," dressed and made-up totally in grey, so that at first, before they start moving, they appear almost like lifeless statues decorating the background of the king's garden. At times they play the role of dispassionate observers to the passionate events that are occurring among and between the protagonists, but they do engage themselves peripherally in the dramatic action at times by giving signals or words to the protagonists and by giving distinct facial expressions that capture various undercurrents of the emotional tone of the scenes being acted out. Truly a masterful piece of stage work, and it is no wonder that this production won the Laurence Olivier Opera Award. If I were asked to choose the best production of a Handel opera that I have seen on DVD, I would still choose Julius Caesar, also performed by the English National Opera and Sir Charles Mackerras (I have yet to see the double DVD of Tamerlano, released by ArtHaus in August 2002). This production of Xerxes, however, graced with Handel's most famous aria, stands in a category of its own."
Christopher Robson | East Sussex, England, UK | 05/21/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Just to re-assure current customers that this recording was made at the first revival (last performance of the run, in fact) in 1988. There has been NO subsequent TV recording made of this ENO production at the Coliseum (I should know, I was in it!) since that time. Just to clear up the confusion. Christopher Robson"
Best Handel DVD yet!
Christopher Robson | 05/13/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"...This performance is by a top cast of English performers at the English National Opera in London. This purchase is worth it only for the fact that Ann Murray sings a superlative Serse (Xerxes). The title role of Serse which Handel composed for the great castrato Gaetano Majorano (who also trained with Farrinelli's teacher Nicola Porpora) is plainly put a terrifying part. Ann Murray (in probably Handel's most testing role for a castrato) offers a clarion and creamy voice which meets every obstacle with her excellent technique. The fact that every aria is stylishly and stylistically decorated according to the competencies of the specific singer are breathtaking: especially in Serse's big set pieces of every Act where MacKerras went to town making the decoration as difficult and intricate as possible. Needles to say these decorations do not seem to trouble Murray at all as she whizzes through them with unbelievable ease. Her colleagues Valerie Masterson (Romilda), Leslie Garrett (Atalanta) and Christopher Robson (Arsamene), to name but a few, excel in this clever production. Leslie Garrett especially seems to have been born to sing Atalanta. The conducting of MacKerras is not very interesting, but his tempi are very well-chosen - although one wishes that they had Minkowski or Jacobs in the pit! Forget other performances of this opera...The English translation (and please note I generally prefer operas to be sung in their original language) fits the music like a glove. The costumes are not modern - mostly 18th century flavoured (around the time of George III). The Genie... of Act two is one of the many demi-gods which were revered in Xerxes's Ancient Persia where this story is set by Handel. This is a clever, nostalgic, funny at times, and a true updating - unlike the Bondy "Don Carlos" - of an opera with a very complicated plot."
C.A. Arthur | Tacoma, Washington | 08/03/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is as fine an opera production as you will ever see--on film or in person. It is close to perfection. The music is glorious, the singers are brilliant, and the staging is outstanding. I've now seen this production at least ten times, first on VHS, and I never cease to marvel. The DVD is clearer than the VHS, and the sound is magnificent. Above all, buy this to see and hear Ann Murray. Bravo!"