Xerse: Francesco Cavalli (1654)

Cavalli: Xerse

★★★★★

(Theater an der Wien, 18 October 2015)

Before Handel and before Bononcini there was Cavalli. This first take on the Xerxes story doesn’t enjoy anywhere near as much fame as its younger cousin, and to my knowledge has only been recorded once, in 1985, with the title role set for countertenor and sung by René Jacobs. It’s high time for another recording and, if Emmanuelle Haïm and her excellent cast could have their arms twisted to do it, we’d be in for a treat.

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L’Incoronazione di Poppea: Claudio Monteverdi (1643)

Poppea: Vienna

★★★★

(Theater an der Wien, Vienna, 19 October 2015)

Before seeing Poppea, I’d been warned it was ‘hardcore Regietheater’, a phrase which would normally provoke serious qualms. But even I know better than to go to a Claus Guth production expecting togas and sandals. Despite my conservative tastes I can appreciate regie if it’s done well. It depends whether the director’s taken time to think about the story, or whether he’s simply thrown in sharks, parrots or a live bull for the sake of it. Guth certainly fell into the first category. His production isn’t traditional, but it’s based on an intelligent reading of the story. It toys with the audience’s expectations and makes you think afresh about the dynamics between the characters. This Poppea is good regie: deceptively playful, with a heart of darkness.

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