opera by George Frederic Handel
IU Musical Arts Center
February 1, 2 and 8,9, 2013
IU Opera Theatre presents Xerxes by George Frederic Handel conducted by Gary Wedow with stage direction by Tom Diamond. This is the team that led IU Opera Theater’s 2009 production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare. This time they are joined by set and costume designer Robert Perdziola for a production that they promise will be a visually and musically opulent with a beautiful fairy tale world.
Amanda Russo is rotating in the role of Xerxes. IU Opera fans have had a chance to enjoy Amanda in women’s roles by Rossini, Massenet and Mozart. Her first trouser role was also in a Handel opera when she played Ruggiero in Alcina at Carnegie- Mellon. At IU, she put on the pants to play Octavian for Richard Strauss and she’s pantsing it up again for Handel as the Persian King.
King Xerxes is a powerful figure and Amanda thinks that it’s his power that leaves him a little short sighted. “He’s very spoiled and he’s used to getting his own way,” says Russo. “Although he’s engaged to Amastre he falls in love with Romilda and just assumes that that’s going to be okay. However, Romilda is actually engaged to marry Xerxes brother Arasmene. So we’ve got a basic triangle.”
“There are comedic moments throughout the opera, from Xerxes’ character especially,” continues Russo. “Everyone else seems to know what’s going on except him. There are scenes in which he’s proposing to Romilda and she won’t even look at him. In fact, at the end of the opera Romilda has secretly married Xerxes brother Arsamene and Xerxes still thinks she’s going to marry him.”
Some members of Handel’s 18th century audience seem to have objected to humor in the midst opera, something they thought of as a more serious undertaking. And there are actually written criticisms that objected to the opera’s faster than usual pace. “Yes,” says Russo. “But I think today people will appreciate both the humor and the pace. It’s actually a fast moving play…with short arias that let the plot keep moving while there are a few longer arias where the dramatic moments demand a longer treatment.”