Countertenor Christopher Newcomer (Xerxes) and his little tree in Handel's Serse, Maryland Opera Studio, 2009 (photo by Cory Weaver)
P. Rasmussen, I. Bayrakdarian, S. Piau, A. Hallenberg, Les Talens Lyriques, C. Rousset (DVD -- $26.99)
A. S. von Otter, S. Piau, L. Zazzo, Les Arts Florissants, W. Christie (CD -- $29.49)
Serse (HWV 40)
Although Handel created the role of Serse for Caffarelli, a soprano castrato, its high-sitting arias are frequently given to a high female voice or transposed down for either a mezzo-soprano or an alto countertenor. The justification for a male or female voice should always come down to musical considerations, rather than the dramatic preference for a male singer over a trousered woman. This production cast countertenor Christopher Newcomer in the role, which was a bit too much of a reach, its heights leading him to sound rather forced and shrill, often bending out of tune, as heard on Wednesday night. The voice struck my ear as modeled too much on that of David Daniels, more sharp than rounded. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast was also mostly lackluster, not necessarily below expectations for a collegiate production but definitely in need of some more finishing. High points came in the buffo roles, the bumbling servant Elviro, played by bass Andrew Adelsberger (a student of François Loup), who was hilarious in falsetto and en travesti as a flower girl, and the scheming sister of Onyu Park's Atalanta. Ms. Park stood out for the brilliance of her ornamentation and for having the best Italian pronunciation among a cast that sounded disappointingly unpolished and very American (Park studied first in Germany and has more training behind her).
Tim Smith, Maryland Opera Studio offers lively staging of Handel's 'Serse' (Clef Notes, April 21)
Joan Reinthaler, Two Early Works in Capable Young Hands (Washington Post, April 20)
Handel's Serse will be repeated tonight (April 24, 7:30 pm) and Sunday afternoon (April 26, 3 pm), at the Clarice Smith Center in College Park.