Friday, March 4, 2011
Xerxes - Dude sings like a lady
As part of the Auckland Arts Festival Handel's 1738 opera - Xerxes is playing the grand old Civic theatre.
I am a bit of an opera fan but prefer a live performance to CDs and have managed to see most of the well-known operas over a number of years since I saw The Barber of Seville at age 6 in Palmerston North (insert own disparaging Palmy joke here).
However Xerxes meant nothing to me other than a damn fine triple word score at Scrabble. And I knew a bit of Handel – Water Music, Royal Fireworks, Messiah etc.
I had also heard that it features counter tenors. I had always had an abiding loathing of counter tenors from the first time I heard The King’s Singers – a UK a capella male group which features the castrati stylings of the counter tenor. (In the old days the castrati were gifted male singers who had been castrated before puberty in order to preserve their high register soprano voices.)
Once the show got started – I realised that the two male leads were counter tenors. But truly, these guys are pretty amazing and can hit the falsetto high notes. But you do wonder - what was the fascination in the 1700s with guys who sing like chicks? It wasn’t as though women weren’t allowed on stage so that men had to sing female roles. Yet It was a mark of great esteem to be a bloke with no nuts who could hit a high C.
Then I got to thinking – why did we tolerate the Bee Gees? Or Prince singing ‘Kiss’ in a falsetto. Or - Frankie Valli and Four Seasons ‘Walk Like A Man’ (sing like a chick). Whaaaa? Weird shit really. Then Led Zep’s Robert Plant and Freddie Mercury were similar pop culture gods with high voices.
Yennyhoo - the opera. Poncy King Xerxes fancies the pants off his brother’s girlfriend. She refuses to accept his advances. Another chick fancies the brother, so schemes to ensure a marriage between the eccentric king and the girlfriend. A bitter estranged girlfriend of the king wanders in and out in a B plot all about what a heartbreaker King Nutless Wonder is. For some reason she dresses as a soldier to conceal her identity.
Weird moment in the show: King’s bitter ex girlfriend dressed as a guy, sings to the King who is a guy who sings back like a girl.
1738, guess you had to be there.
Finale – after a magnificent aria all about love being crap and that by the King, all of a sudden things turn out for the best within two verses: King’s brother ‘accidentally’ weds the hottie, repentant King suddenly realises he still loves his ex. Hottie’s rival hooks up with an army general. Peace is restored. Love is the winner on the day.
Phil runs wine tours in Auckland New Zealand.