By Patrick B. McGuigan
EDMOND – For an aural delight, catch “Serse” this weekend at the University of Central Oklahoma’s Mitchell Hall (100 North University Drive, Edmond 73034).
Aural? That’s an old word for “seen and heard.”
Director Robert Glaubitz has nicely distilled into two hours the glorious music of George Frideric Handel, from the original (much longer) libretto of Nicola Minato and Silvio Stampiglia.
Performances opened Thursday and continue Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m.
The opera — presented in Italian but with English translation projected above the stage — is a delight to the ears. This is a classic tale of mistaken identify, misdirected love and foolish jealousy, in the tradition of greats works of art across the centuries of western culture.
While the subject matter is serious – “tragic, playful, love” the program tells us – the story and the performers never take themselves too seriously.
In the oldest tradition of performing art, albeit with a twist, there is not too much worry about who is playing whom. Thus, females performing male parts have little trouble reaching those Handel high notes.
The story briefly involves King Serse (Amber Zuniga) who is visiting General Ariodate (Grant Sorum) in the midst of a campaign against an unnamed opposing state. Some of the most interesting action in the story takes place at the base of, and up in the branches of, an ancient tree.
Serse falls madly in love at first sight with Ariodate’s daughter, Romilda (Jessica Adkins).
Trouble arises because Serse’s brother Arsamene (Rory Behrens) is already secretly Romilda’s suitor.
Romilda’s volatile sister, Atalanta (Stephanie Boyd) connives to snag Arsamene for herself. Atalanta draws Arsamene’s witty servant, Elviro (Zachary DeVault), into a complicated scheme of deception.
Witnessing all of this a bit cluelessly is Amastre (Courtney Bryant) – a woman disguised first as a (male) gardener, then as a soldier.
Brothers Serse and Arasamene battle over who is best suited for Romilda’s hand in marriage. A series of misunderstandings leads to … some surprises in the end.
Key leading characters are played on some nights by Teresa Swallow, Taylor Anderson and Troy Small.
Rounding out a superb ensemble are Hope Gerhard, Megan Wallace, Jill Falter, Micah Weese, Ying Feng, Lindsey Grisham, Sarah Kreienbrink, Troy Small, Rory Behrens, Shiting Liu, Swallow and Pie Yi, and Sorum.
The costumes from Becky McGuigan are striking and gorgeous, fittingly so for such a show.
Dr. Glaubitz’s other collatorators include Tim Case (Scenic Design), Samantha Aldridge (Sound), Christopher Dormanski (Lighting) and Kalli Ford (stage manager).
The story is fun, consciously chaotic and un-profound – except when it reflects on the importance of both love and honesty in human relationships.
The singing is uniformly superb, true to the spirit and tradition of opera while the performers seek to relate the tale to a modern audience.
UCO’s Dr. Ralph Morris is music director, and conducts the outstanding orchestra in delivery of Handel’s soaring music. The musicians include (Harpsichord) Megan Clewell, (Trumpet) Josh Watley, (Horns) Shari Rigney and Raini Polk, (Oboes) Ann Schrock and Kasey Jackson, (Recorders) Chris Bobo and faculty member Theodora Morris.
The soaring violinists include Jose Batty, Maria Marcos, Dan Zhu, Nianying Jin, Sally Oh, Audrey Matheny, Brian Dunagan, Ryan Kyker, Madison Cramer, Adam Dorety, Lisa Windham and Yanxi Li. Violas were played by Orlando Ramiez, Guoqin Shi, Raven Cornman, Mark St. John, Austin McCoy, Danyi Huang, Charles Henning and Bobo.
On the Cello are Jonathan Edwards, Jacob Frantz, Chalyn Edson, Yanqian He and DeeDee Briott. The resonant String Bass performances come from Kangwa Mundende, Rei Wang, Raul Reyes, Isabella Pfeifer and Dailey Quinton.
Tickets for the performance, a highlight of this year’s University of Central Oklahoma school of Music season, can be purchased online at www.mitchellhalltheatre.com or by phone at 405-974-3375. UCO students are limited to one free ticket per student ID.