The Greek National Opera made a triumphant start to the new year with the premiere of Handel’s opera «Xerxes,» which opened at the Olympia Theater last night. This is the first time the work is being performed by an all-Greek cast and more performances are set for Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. « ‘Xerxes’ comes to us from a time long gone when the operatic movement was first born; as a performance it involved great difficulties in its staging, as well as in its interpretation. Any account of previous performances has been erased and all that is left is for the performers to revive the scent of the era,» said Loukas Karytinos, the National Opera’s artistic director at a press conference last Thursday, further noting that the cast was chosen with great care. «In the 21st century the only way to familiarize ourselves with an opera is to ensure a personal response. In other words, the work has to touch us emotionally,» said James Carson, the stage director, whose National Opera engagement was arranged in collaboration with the British Council. The British director also took time to explain basic facts about the opera, adding that a number of elements from the Baroque period tie in well with the postmodern era, making the work exciting, even today. « ‘Xerxes,’ is an opera which was composed during Handel’s mature period, a work of exceptional musical quality, full of contrasts as well as humorous and dramatic moments. The basic issues here are love and pride, as seen through the prism of sex and violence,» said Carson. On the subject of the musical difficulties encountered when producing a Baroque opera, such as the manner in which arias are interpreted or even the vagueness of the musical score, maestro Vassilis Christopoulos noted that the Athens production is based on a revised edition of the original score and that the various interpretations are based on a kind of «musical excavation.» He added that in this work, essentially the composer’s most prominent opera, Handel opted for musical unity rather than virtuosity. The opera’s set and costume designs are by Giorgos Souglidis; the choreography is by Kyriakos Kosmidis with musical direction by Aris Christofellis. The lead roles are interpreted by Mary-Eleni Nezi, Nikos Spanos, Maria Mitsopoulou and Gina Poulou. The National Opera production of Handel’s ‘Xerxes’ is on at the Olympia Theater, 59-61 Academias, tel 361.1516. Performances on January 16, 18 and 20.