Xerxes: Rebecca Olthafer, soprano
Arsamene: Gerrod Pagenkopf, countertenor
Elviro: Adam Blumberg, baritone
Romilda: Hein Jung, soprano
Atalanta: Jamie-Rose Guarrine, soprano
Amastre: Kassy Coleman, mezzo-soprano
Ariodate: Anthony Cao, bass
UW Chamber Orchestra
James Smith, conductor
Last weekend's University Opera production of Handel's Xerxes looked quite good and for the most part sounded good as well. It's a challenging vehicle for students because it's a full-size three-act work with a complex mix of characters and interactions, combining comic and serious sentiments with opportunities for costuming, sets and direction, as well as with first-rate music.
The plot defies simple recounting, but rests on the competing interests of a pair of brothers and a pair of sisters in matters of the heart. Everything works out in the end, of course.
James Smith's conducting was crisp and the UW Chamber Orchestra's playing was mostly clean. Jenny Nehls' setting fit the tiny stage of Old Music Hall very well, and the costumes, by Sydney Krieger and Hyewon Park, were very attractive. William Farlow's direction nicely supported the musical and dramatic context. The singers seemed nervous at the outset but were warmed up by the second act.
As Xerxes, the King of Persia, soprano Rebecca Olthafer was fairly bright and flexible in a demanding role. Countertenor Gerrod Pagenkopf (Arsamene, brother of Xerxes) was ill at ease as an actor and was in trouble vocally much of the time: the high voice is forced and strident, and the middle range is pale, wavering in pitch and lacking firm breath support. As the lower end sounds pretty good, I wonder whether he can have a career as a countertenor without risking serious damage to his instrument. Baritone Adam Blumberg (Arsamene's servant Elviro) had a nice feel for comedy and showed a fairly good voice. Soprano Hein Jung (Romilda, the intended of both Xerxes and Arsamene) has a bright if somewhat thin sound and only partially realized the dramatic aspects of the role. Soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine (Atalanta, sister of Romilda) was vocally the most secure member of the cast and a convincing actor. Mezzo-soprano Kassy Coleman (Amastre, betrothed to Xerxes) has some of the most moving music of the whole opera. She may have a good instrument, but it's not much developed so far. Bass Anthony Cao (Ariodate, father of Romilda and Atalanta) has a good voice; it could serve him well if he trains it further.
The University Opera is severely limited by the absence of a strong program for singers, unlike that for instrumentalists, so it's not surprising the orchestra was relatively solid and much of the singing was relatively weak. But overall, it was an enjoyable effort.
Isthmus, October, 2001
Copyright 2001 Jess Anderson