Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Xerxes

  • Opera & Dance
 
Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Xerxes

Published:

Thu, 30/04/2015 - 14:13

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paul
Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Xerxes, from left:  Sophie Pullen as Atal
Published: 
30 April, 2015
by SEBASTIAN TAYLOR

MUSICALLY, there’s something quite magical about Hampstead Garden Opera’s staging of Handel’s comic master­piece Xerxes at Upstairs at the Gatehouse in Hampstead.

It’s the extraordinary orchestral underpinnings composed by Handel which cast the magic spell. In this production, the cut-down period instrument ensemble includes only two violins; viola; two baroque recorders; two harpsi­chords; and cello as part of the basso continuo.

Richard Hetherington from the Royal Opera House directs from one of the harpsichords and – wow! – he just knows how to work the score. There’s an eager intensity in the playing that sustains the pulsating energy through to the very last note.

There’s much fun in the opera, a jumble of love interest among four main characters that could well come from Bridget Jones’s Dairy. Xerxes is in love with Romilda; so too is his brother Arsamenes; Atalanta is in love with Xerxes; so too is his one-time partner Amastis.

Adding to the fun, Xerxes is usually sung by a counter-tenor. But on my night, American sopranist Paul Bork took on the role, singing some extraordinarily high notes for a male. Singing is spiritedly Handelian, though full appreciation of Nicholas Hytner’s witty translation suffers too often from poor enunciation.

Not so with baritone Oskar McCarthy singing Arsamenes with much aplomb, pronouncing just about every word with singular clarity. McCarthy is very much at home in the north London location, having been to New End School in Hampstead and then to Highgate School almost over the road from The Gatehouse. He’s got quite a number of operatic roles under his belt since leaving Cambridge. Next up is elderly Taddeo in Rossini’s L'italiana in Algeri being staged peripatetically by Pop-Up Opera this summer.

Pictured: Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Xerxes, from left:  Sophie Pullen as Atalanta, Madeleine Holmes as Romilda, and Oskar McCarthy as Arsamenes. Photo: Laurent Compagnon

Xerxes, Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate, N6. Tickets £23/cons £21. Performances: evenings at 7.30pm on April 30, May 1 & 2; matinées at 2.30pm on Saturday May 2nd; and 4pm on Sunday May 3. 020 8340 3488, www.upstairsatthegatehouse.com

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