Xerxes opera review: Revival shows how much of a handle Nicholas Hytner's had on Handel

Coliseum, London

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The Independent Culture

When Nicholas Hytner created this show in 1985, Handel operas were seldom staged in London, and never with this degree of panache: survey the operatic landscape now, and you see what a revolution he helped trigger by importing ideas and techniques he’d honed in the theatre.

In Michael Walling’s revival the stylised back-projections, squads of green deckchairs, and evocations of Vauxhall Gardens look as fresh today as they did thirty years ago, and Hytner’s translation seems no less felicitous; the chorus in their exquisite period costumes move with a tongue-in-cheek ceremoniousness which perfectly sets off the wild emotional shenanigans of the soloists.

Each of these soloists is ideally cast for Handel’s serenely glittering sex-comedy, in which Xerxes’ attempt to exercise droit de seigneur sets off a mutinous network of intrigue. Baritones Adrian Powter and Neal Davies provide, respectively, the peripheral slapstick and military gravitas; mezzo Catherine Young sings nobly as the cross-dressed Amastris, while counter-tenor Andrew Watts makes something wonderful out of the role of Arsamenes.

Sopranos Sarah Tynan and Rhian Lois are by turns bewitching and irresistibly comic as the warring sisters Romilda and Atalanta, while Alice Coote brings every atom of her consummate artistry to bear in a magnificent performance as Xerxes; Michael Hoftstetter conducts.

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