Rediscover what makes Baroque opera great
The ancient Persian king Xerxes is supposed to be fighting the Greeks, but his heart is elsewhere, in Handel’s tongue-in-cheek 1738 masterpiece about the amorous follies of kings. The sensational American countertenor Key’mon Murrah leads a stellar cast led by Dame Jane Glover, in Tazewell Thompson’s richly ornate production.
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The young king Xerxes is engaged to Amastris, but has fallen in love with Romilda, the daughter of Ariodate, a general. Romilda, however, is in love with Arsamene, Xerxes’ brother. When Xerxes realizes, that his own brother is in his way, he wants to expel him. On the occasion of Ariodate’s victorious return, Xerxes announces the wedding of Romilda and a member of the royal house. Amastris, who has taken part in Ariodat’s campaign, is informed by Arsamene of Xerxes’ faithlessness and of his intention to marry Romilda. When Xerxes meets Amastris in front of Ariodate’s house and does not recognize her because she is still wearing her captain’s uniform, he orders her to stand as a guard in front of Ariodate’s house. Thus at dawn, when he, disguised in a cloak, wants to approach Romilda, she does not let him in. Then Xerxes pretends to be a messenger of the king and announces the imminent arrival of the ‘royal bridegroom’ to Ariodate. Romilda reacts quickly and arranges for Arsamene to present himself as the royal bridegroom before her father. When Xerxes arrives to ask Ariodate for Romilda’s hand, the wedding ceremony is already over. Xerxes takes the intrigue good-humouredly and returns to Amastris.
[Boosey & Hawkes]