My daughter Laura and I attended the Houston Grand Opera production of Handel's Xerxes last night. The performers and production were nearly flawless, but Handel's music was singularly dead, emotionally. For an opera sung in Italian, with a passionate libretto, the music was too light and lively for my taste. Yes, this opera was written as a sort of tragicomedy, but after a certain point all the music sounded the same. There was very little variation in the score, and it became tedious for me.
As I said, the production was beautifully performed, and I think the fault lay in Handel, who was not capable of giving the music enough humor to carry the underlying idea. All the arias had very slight meaning, with musical ornamentation carried to extremes. I am sure the performers found the music very challenging, but the voices were made to sound like harpsichords, and the extreme vocal acrobatics did not carry emotion. The singers did their best to convey emotion in their gestures and facial expressions, I must say in their favor.
The sets were beautiful, the costumes gorgeous, the singing incredible in its virtuosity. The lead roles were originally written for castrati; the modern leads were a mezzo and a countertenor.