Hampstead Garden Opera's production of Handel's Xerxes (Serse in Italian). Xerxes struggled when it was first heard almost 300 years ago. It broke the opera seria mould by trying some humour and going easy on the da capo (repeated opening section) aria format... and that novelty consigned it to obscurity. Its appeal was revived through Nicholas Hytner's production for ENO in the mid-1980s and Hytner's translation is that used in this unfussy production by Andrew Davidson, with crisp, modern design by Maira Vazeou.
Indeed the comedy in Xerxes is a little awkward, with incongruity interpolated into a more conventional love, er, tetrahedron. Davidson gives Chris Webb (Elviro) a long leash and a playful prop & costume box to get the audience onside, and it works. Meanwhile there is a some nice singing and also one particularly fine theatrical coup during Freya Jacklin (Amastris)'s final aria courtesy of Jess Glaisher's solipsistic lighting design. The music is fluid but secure under the direction of Richard Hetherington with the notable continuo cello contribution of Kate Conway, whose flawless intonation and mobile but never-undernourished sound was the bedrock of a good performance of the opera.