Too many, Xerxes is a Persian king from the movie 300, but to opera fans and Handel fans, it is the name of a supposedly comic opera about kings and consorts, mistaken identity, misdirected letters and women dressed as men singing soprano or countertenor roles.  Opera Theatre brought this opera in a new English translation to the Watergate Theatre Kilkenny from Nicholas Hytner.
While I might have expected a Persian setting of sandals and leather-strip skirts, I knew I wasn’t going to get a woman playing XerXes (Serces) as in the semi-nude character of 300 but moving it forward to a Napoleonic period made it less real.  But opera seems to thrive on such time-shifts and Director, Michael Moxham, despite a dodgy pace, was saved by one of the finest singing cast I have heard from Opera Theatre, who seem to bypass Waterford too often.
I won’t go into the storyline as it is too contrived by half, but the music under Andrew Synnott’s direction, was a joy and often I just shut my eyes to girls dressed as men singing high on the scale and girls dressed as men pretending to be disguise within the play.
The English counter-tenor Mark Chambers was wonderful as XerXes brother, Arsamenes.  Natasha Jouhl was a beautiful Romilda, loved by both brothers and Rebekah Coffey was a frolicsome Atalanta.  Brendan Collins, the Cork-born bass, provided much comedy as Elviro, the hapless servant.
All in all, despite the duff storyline, a twenty minute delay in starting the performance, the music and singing provided a wonderful evening and I felt the truth in Samuel Butler’s statement, that – Handel and Shakespeare had left us the best that any have left us.