This production is presented as if it were a live performance in (then) modern dress taking place more or less contemporary with this opera's composition in 1738. The action takes place in an imaginative re-creation of the Vauxhall pleasure gardens before a reproduction of the Roubiliac Handel statue that was completed in the same year.
I've given this DVD 5 stars for its entertainment value. The music, it goes without saying, is of very high quality even if it is not the very best Handel. The plot appears complicated on paper but it's perfectly sensible when it's set out before you on the stage. As to the performance... well the string sound is a little too modern for my liking, a little heavy with too much vibrato. Also the harpsichord used is much too heavy. It sounds like a modern revival style instrument to me, but it's not a serious defect overall. The tempi are well chosen, with a springy beat and a lively pace which perfectly suits this comedic, subversive and slightly satirical piece.
The singing and acting are outstanding. Christopher Robson is brilliant as Xerxes' brother Arsemenes, and Lesley Garrett is predictably winsome as Atalanta. But frankly it seems unfair to single anybody out from this outstanding cast.
I make no criticism at all of Rodney McCann in the minor role of Ariodate, but when I first saw this production on stage in the 1980's the great Norman Bailey sang this role and it is a shame that, given that his recorded legacy is so thin, he could not have been present on this occasion. How nice it would have been to have seen one of the great Wotans of the modern era recorded on the stage.
But the quibbles mentioned above are all very minor, and I certainly don't want to give the impression that this performance, production and recording are anything less than first class. This is an absolutely essential item in the DVD collection of anybody in the slightest degree interested in baroque opera.