The Organ

Handel's Xerxes

ENO 19th November 2005

Nicholas Hytner's 1985 production of Xerxes did much to foster the Handel opera revival which is still very much with us. Revived by Michael Walling, the staging remains highly convincing and smoothly adapts to new singers as well as differing approaches to conducting. On this occasion it was the soloists who led from strength. Katarina Karnéus has both the wit and voice for Xerxes and was strongly matched by Lawrence Zazzo as Arsamenes and Janis Kelly as Romilda. Sarah Tynan's bubbly Atalanta was dramatically impressive but the voice at times seemed over stretched. Maybe she will relax a little more as the performances settle down. Graeme Danby enjoys the humour of Elvira - almost more Mozartian than Handel - and Neal Davies was a bluff Ariodates.

Given all this vocal impact the evening should have been highly enjoyable. That it regularly was not so seemed constantly to reflect Noel Davies' rather flaccid conducting. Where musical lines should bite and bounce they simply meandered. Singers tried to lift the pace but made little impact on what appeared to be a very old fashioned, almost romantic, approach to the score. With so many baroque specialists available it seemed odd to use somebody who - whatever their other strengths - was obviously not in tune with Handel's needs.