Yesterday evening I attempted to see the entirety of the Bavarian State Opera's production of Serse. The last time I only made it through the the first two acts before I was too disgusted to watch the rest. This time I decided to sit in the best section of the Nationaltheater, the Königsloge. The acoustics are excellent there, I could hear the orchestra turning their pages.
Händel's music is always a delight, but I felt the music was not nearly as powerful as Saul. Serse is, of course, Händel's best known comedic opera, one of four. The arias of Serse are all rather short compared to his other opera arias. The finale was a bit of a let down, it is brief and light.
Ivor Bolton conducted fairly well. The singers seemed to be with the music nearly the whole time. Ann Murray, as Serse (Xerxes), was better than I remembered. Her voice is not beautiful, a bit shrill, but it is powerful. She's a little waif of a thing too, it is incredible the amount of volume she has. Countertenor Christopher Robson was impressive as Arsamene, at points his voice was simply unreal. He is a bit shrill as well in the higher register. As Amastris, mezzo Nathalie Stutzmann's voice was prettier than I remembered, but she does not project well. She sounded good when only accompanied by the harpsichord, otherwise she was too quiet. Susan Gritton was, again as Romilda, the strongest singer, her voice is beautiful.
Martin Duncan's production was as hideous as I remembered, without any regard for the noise levels. The huge conveyor belt used in Act III rumbled and grumbled, especially terrible during the overture. Duncan seemed quite set on always having something going on at every moment to keep the audience engaged. I suppose this is what the audience wants, the audience at the Bavarian State Opera does not strike me as serious or refined in the least. Even in the best seats in the house, only among twelve people, there was chatter.
Ultz's costumes and stage were childish. The lurid bright pinks, purples, and blues were hard on the eyes. Jonathan Lunn's choreography was likewise puerile. The audience loved Atalanta's shimmies and saucy movements, they applauded her during the overture. Unbelievable. One gets the feeling that no one is there for the music.
But, I suppose, it was fun and cute. The penultimate scene in Act II had Romilda surrounded by supernumeraries menacing her with pink ball gowns and fancy shoes meant to tempt her, as Serse tries his best to seduce. This was fairly effective. Perhaps Martin Duncan and Ultz can work on staging non-Baroque works instead.