BWW Review: XERXES at ASU School Of Music
George Frideric Handel was a prolific writer and composer. He wrote 42 operas and several other musical offerings, with Xerxes being opera number 40. It premiered in London on April 15, 1738. Handel has several well-known works, so it is no wonder that his operas are still being performed and enjoyed by audiences.
This opera focuses on the King, Xerxes. He is betrothed to Amastre, whom he has not seen and has abandoned, which causes her much distress. He determines to marry Romilda, a commoner. This presents a problem because Romilda is in a relationship with the King's brother, Arsamene. To add further complication, Romilda's sister, Atalanta wants to be in love with Arsamene, but he is devoted to Romilda. Misunderstandings, confusion, and hilarity ensue as these characters attempt to sort out the absurdity that is love.
The title role is played by *Molly Cox. Cox has a fantastic voice, a delightful stage presence, and quite a range. Arsamene is played by Ariana Warren. While these are male roles, the practice of using castrati ended in the 1850's, so these roles are now sung by women. Warren also has a powerful voice and a command of the stage. The whole opera is performed in Italian, with subtitles appearing above the stage. Not surprising that all the actors have excellent diction and a command of the language. Each performer has a unique timbre that brings depth to the character and the story being told.
Romilda is played by *Banlingyu Ban. Her sister, Atalanta is played by *Jennifer Madruga-Chavez. Ban has a voice that reaches the rafters. She brings strength and defiance to the character. Her duet with Warren in Act 2 is beautiful. Their voices blend well together, which is an unexpected benefit of women playing male roles. Madruga-Chavez brings much of the humor to the production. She sings beautifully and handles the comedy with ease. As Amastre, Isabel Yun plays the jilted lover to perfection. She displays her emotions with her crystal clear voice and her entire body. It is clear that her character is in agony and the audience acutely feels her pain.
As Elviro/a, David Nelson brings a marvelous energy to the stage. He is an excellent singer and clearly understands the rules of comedy. His physicality brings additional humor to the role and he is well matched with the other actors on stage. Ariodate, the father of Romilda and Atalanta, is played by Michael Tallino. He is introduced as a warrior with a wonderful baritone voice and Tallino definitely lives up to the description. He has a tremendous voice and is a pleasure to watch.
The supporting cast and chorus is woefully absent through much of the production. When they appear, the add to the ambiance, humor, and talent. The chorus is full of fantastic voices and it is a shame Handel did not give them more to do.
This production is brilliantly presented. The costumes are vibrant and accurate for the time period in which the production is set. The cast cleverly introduces their characters in English at the beginning. The actors use the space well under the direction of Dale Dreyfoos, and there are several surprising additions to the staging that provide laughter and provide connection for a modern audience. Xerxes runs through February 17 at the Evelyn Smith Music Theatre and is presented by the ASU School of Music. Tickets can be purchased here.
*Please note that the actors playing Xerxes, Romilda, and Atalanta alternate based on performance date.
Photo provided courtesy of ASU School of Music