Receive Festival updates by email


CALENDAR 2 - 20 MARCH 2011

28 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

select a day


Updates from the 2011 Artistic DirectorElisabeth EastherSchools Review CompetitionReviews
Bookmark and Share

Trelise Handels it

By - 3 Mar 2011
"There is nothing quite like a live performance, in a beautiful venue, with talented performers and glorious costumes. Nothing. It’s enough to make you pledge to get out more, and go to more things, even things you know nothing about, because the experience of being part of an audience when the cast and crew and musicians are getting it right – well, it can’t be beaten."

By Kate Hannah 3 March 2011
Read this review on

"Last night, the opening night of the Auckland Arts Festival and the premiere of Georg Friedrich Handel's 1738 opera, Xerxes, was one of those evenings when the stars in the ceiling of the Civic aligned and a perfect night out took place.

The Civic, a triumph of Orientalism, was a sublime location for this production, an opera set in Persia in the mid-4th century BCE; the Moorish arches and Abyssinian lions of the theatre's interior interplayed beautifully with Trelise Cooper's costumes, and provided a context for 18th century London's fascination with all things 'oriental' and 'exotic' - like the story of a Persian King who famously falls in love first with a tree, then with his brother's girlfriend, and then back in love, rather quickly, it seems, with his cross-dressing murderous ex-fiancée.

New Zealand Opera's production of Xerxes is the first time one of the famed Baroque composer's operas has been staged in New Zealand; what made this production possible was the involvement of the inventive period orchestra the Lautten Compagney from Berlin and their musical director Wolfgang Katschner - the use of Baroque instruments by these talented players gave an authenticity and spirit to the charming music.

Another necessary puzzle piece for the staging of Xerxes in New Zealand was the recruitment of two counter-tenors - the delightfully foppish Tobias Cole in the title role, and William Purefoy as the handsome, faithful Arsamene. Handel's original score was written, as was the style then, for the male leads to be played by castrati.

Fortunately we live in slightly less brutal times, and are content to search out approximations of the male sopranos that were all the rage in 18th century London. (To the relief of all men reading this, I'm sure.)

Cole and Purefoy were perfectly cast and costumed - the dandyish king in his purple velvet dress uniform embroidered with an ornate peacock, glorified by his general for a victory he has not even fought in, singing a falsetto love song to his tree; contrasted with the brooding and Byronic Prince Arsamene, recently returned from war, in his boots and breeches and dark colours, his coat subtly emblazoned with a lion.

Arsamene's travelling clothes - the ones he assumes after his brother exiles him - were my favourite: boots with a subtle cream tassel; brown velvet breeches and a long coat with a Victorian version of an Indian Paisley shawl fashioned into a cloak over the top.

This outfit exemplified Cooper's costuming - a magnificent pastiche of her own loves - military details, flouncy shirts, ornate embroidery in an Indian style, sans culottes and the Incroyables - into a highly visual plethora of colour, texture and meaning.

Atalanta, cleavage heaving, is in Kelly green, exemplifying her jealousy and spite; Romilda's gorgeous mustard dress and pink and turquoise opera coat are much more modest, signifying her fidelity to Arsamene despite her sister's plotting.

The Opera Chorus, in outfits very reminiscent of the sans culottes in Les Misèrables, celebrating their King's triumph and the triumph of love. Tiffany Speight, playing Romilda, was gorgeous - an expressive face and an intelligent singer who was beautifully flattered by the costuming and makeup.

So while, like many, I'm sure, my previous knowledge of Handel was restricted to The Messiah and his Water Music, I'm now won over to his opera - a slight and unimportant tale of love and unrequited love, told through music in a way that, inexplicably, is as transformative as the most serious and solemn of films or plays that I have seen.

Franco Zefirelli, the Italian director famous for his 1968 Romeo and Juliet, described opera's power - "I have always believed that opera is a planet where the muses work together, join hands, and celebrate the arts" - an axiom that seemed most apt last night when the cast, director, assistant director, conductor, set designer, costume designer and lighting designer joined hands and took their bows in front of an appreciative audience.

So if you're not up to anything tonight - go to the opera. Tickets available from The Edge."


Leave a comment

Post comment