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Byre Opera presents XERXES by Handel

Byre Opera, the opera company of the University of St Andrews, presents a new production in English of Handel’s Xerxes.

The production opens with three performances in St Andrews (22, 23 & 24 June) before touring to Berwick-upon-Tweed (30 June & 1 July) and, for the first time, to London (5 & 6 July).

Byre Opera, which is ten years old this year, offers students high-level opera performance opportunities to students while they study other subjects. The all-student cast of Xerxes works under professional conditions, with a professional production team and conductor.

Conductor and Director of Music at the University of St Andrews Music Centre, Michael Downes, said: “We are very fortunate to be working with some of the best period instrument performers in the country and with such a fantastic creative team on this production of Xerxes. The opportunities to work with people of this calibre play a key role in attracting an ever-increasing number of talented musicians to study in St Andrews, no matter the focus of their degree.”

Xerxes was premiered in London 180 years ago, in 1738, and opens with one of opera’s best-loved arias, Ombra mai fu Handel’s ‘Largo’, sung by King Xerxes, under his plane tree. The storyline revolves around King Xerxes I of Persia, with a complex series of deceptions and plots in the name of love leading to a happy ending. Xerxes is an opera seria in three acts, but Handel strayed from true opera seria form with his inclusion of comic or buffa elements.

‌Director Tania Holland Williams draws on themes in the opera that are relevant today, such as our intervention in nature and the lasting consequences of the choices we make as human beings. The setting for director Holland Williams’ production is a post-apocalyptic landscape, reflecting the chaotic effect humans have on our environment with the emotional chaos created by one single human – King Xerxes. There is, however, an overall feeling of hope throughout the production.

Tania Holland Williams said: “I am always fascinated by the question of what makes something a meaningful proposition for the audience, especially something as remote in language and form as a Handelian opera. By explaining the emotional landscape of Xerxes’ world through the metaphor of a ravaged and corrupted garden, I am hoping that the show might go some way to illuminating our vital and oft-times dysfunctional relationship with the natural order.”

This year (2018) celebrates ten years of Byre Opera. The company was formed by Michael Downes in 2008 to provide stage experience and to offer high-quality operatic performances to audiences in St Andrews and beyond.

The company’s singers are drawn mainly from the undergraduate and postgraduate student bodies, but casts have also included young professionals from throughout the UK, University staff, and singers from the local community. Past productions have included The Cunning Little Vixen, The Turn of the Screw, Eugene Onegin and Iphigénie en Tauride. Former students include baritone Ben McAteer, who sang with the company while studying chemistry at the University of St Andrews.

More information

Byre Theatre, St Andrews
Friday 22, Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 June (7.30pm): £19/£15 (conc); £10 (student/U26); Sunday 24 June (2.30pm) Dementia-friendly performance: all tickets £8; all tickets bookable online or via 01334 475000

Berwick Maltings, Berwick-upon-Tweed
Saturday 30 June (7.30pm) and Sunday 1 July (4pm); tickets £20/£18 (conc); £10 (student); U16 free (with accompanying adult) bookable online or via 01289 330999

Priory Church of the Order of St John, London
Thursday 5 and Friday 6 July (7.30pm): tickets £22/£18 (conc); £10 (student/U26) bookable online or via 01334 475000

Performances last approximately two hours plus interval.

Issued by the Communications Office, University of St Andrews.

Images courtesy of © Oli Walker/Tilted Frame Photography. Further images and a PDF of the poster are available via Dropbox.

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