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No castrati in this Xerxes, but plenty of other thrills

No castrati in this Xerxes, but plenty of other thrills

31 January 2011

In March, The NBR New Zealand Opera presents the first fully staged Handel opera in New Zealand. This new production of Xerxes is a fresh and modern version of Handel’s original Baroque opera, but with its authenticity still intact. This has been achieved by contemporising the set and costumes, but keeping the music as close as possible to how it would have been performed in Handel’s day.

General Director of The NBR New Zealand Opera, Aidan Lang, says that nowadays he simply cannot conceive of Handel’s music, or any Baroque music for that matter, being played on modern instruments. “I heard my fair share of this earlier in my career,” he says. “But now, there are a handful of world-class ensembles who specialise in music of the Baroque era and play that music on period instruments. In doing so, they create sound worlds for Handel’s music that are similar to what audiences would have heard when Handel wrote the music.”

One of those ensembles is the internationally acclaimed Lautten Compagney from Berlin, a group of Baroque musicians who are coming to New Zealand specially to accompany Xerxes. “Wolfgang Katschner and his orchestra will give you a performance of Xerxes that is visceral and thrilling,” Lang says. “The music will dance with a savage intensity, rivalling the virtuosity Handel demands of his singers.

“We’ve been very particular in sourcing a cast of singers who will complement the Lautten Comagney, and give you a top-notch experience,” Lang says. “While we can’t be completely authentic and provide castrati [male singers who were castrated before reaching puberty so as to preserve their high, pure voices], we have the modern equivalent in two outstanding counter tenors, Australian Tobias Cole in the titular role and Englishman William Purefoy as Xerxes’ brother Arsamene. Australian soprano Tiffany Speight, who won many accolades for her portrayal of Musetta in 2008’s La bohème, returns to sing Romilda. New Zealanders Kristen Darragh (mezzo soprano) and Martin Snell (bass) return from Berlin and Zurich to sing Amastre and Ariodate, respectively. And also joining the cast from Australia are soprano Amy Wilkinson as Atalanta and bass Stephen Bennett as Elviro.”

Pulling the production together and heading the creative team is director Roger Hodgman, an Australian at the top of his game. “Under Roger’s consummate direction, and as exemplified in the restrained minimalism of John Verryt’s set design and the multi-coloured opulence of Trelise Cooper’s costume design, the creative team have found a new and exciting theatrical style that is respectful to the work, yet through its contemporary feel, speaks to a modern audience,” Lang says.

“Handel was a real dramatist and a truly great composer of opera. In Xerxes he has created a work that is witty, lyrical, moving, and at times explores the human condition with acute perception. You’re in for a treat,” he says.

Click for big version

Tiffany Speight (Romilda) and Tobias Cole (Xerxes) in Victorian Opera’s staging of this co-production of Xerxes. Photo credit: Jeff Busby.

Xerxes is a co-production between The NBR New Zealand Opera and Victorian Opera in Melbourne, in association with Auckland Arts Festival. It opens in Auckland on Wednesday 2 March and Wellington on Tuesday 15 March, and is sung in Italian with English surtitles.

Auckland – Civic Theatre, THE EDGE
Wed 2, Thu 3, Sat 5 March – 7.30pm; Sun 6 March – 5pm
Wellington – St James Theatre
Tue 15, Fri 18, Sat 19 March – 7.30pm; Wed 16 March – 6pm

Tickets: $49.50 to $187.50. Concessions available for benefactors, senior citizens, students and group bookings. Service fees apply.

Bookings: The NBR NZ Opera Box Office, Tel (09) 379 4068 or (04) 499 8343, or:

Wellington: Ticketek, Tel 0800 TICKETEK (0800 842 538) or

Auckland: The Edge, Tel 0800 BUYTICKETS (0800 289 842) or

Further information:


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