Xerxes: George Frideric Handel (1738)

Anna Stéphany

★★★★ ½

(Early Opera Company at St John’s Smith Square, 18 November 2016)

With only one production so far this year, I’ve had Xerxes withdrawal symptoms, but fortunately the Early Opera Company and Christian Curnyn were there to save the day with a concert performance at St John’s Smith Square last Friday. This was billed as a concert version of their truly excellent studio recording from 2013, but in fact the entire cast is different, with one crucial exception: Anna Stéphany as the brat-prince himself. The change of cast didn’t matter, however, as EOC drafted in some of the brightest young things around, and the result was classy, perfectly-paced and probably (on balance) the best-sounding Xerxes I’ve yet heard live. Coming from me, that’s high praise.

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Orfeo: Claudio Monteverdi (1607)

★★★★

(Royal Opera House in collaboration with the Roundhouse, January 2014)

In 1607 Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, came up with a rather original way to celebrate Carnival at his court. It was inspired by something he’d seen in Florence a few years earlier in 1600, when he’d been a guest at the wedding of Maria de’ Medici and Henry IV of France. He’d been deeply impressed by the main entertainment offered at the festivities: a new kind of play, set to music by Jacopo Peri and Giulio Caccini (who’d already produced a similar work called Dafne in 1597).

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