Franco Fagioli © Julian Laidig

Opera in three acts (1738)

Music by Georg Friedrich Händel

Libretto based on Niccolò Minato und Silvio Stampiglia

Opera in concert in Italian

Monday, 22 October 2018, 7 pm until 10.40 pm (Intermission: 8.30 pm)

Content / Background

With his Serse, George Frideric Handel gave musicologists a tough nut to crack when it came to assigning it to a historical genre: although the work is generally described as an opera seria, the events it portrays are not meant to be taken entirely seriously. So is it really a seria, a serious opera, or a forerunner of Mozart’s dramma giocoso or perhaps even a late example of Venetian light opera? Serse contains one of the most famous pieces written by Handel, the so-called largo “Ombra mai fu”. Today, this aria — performed with heartfelt pathos — is a popular choice at funerals and other occasions for reflection. But in the opera it is a larghetto, and the pathos is intended to be comic: it is sung to a tree. The Persian king Xerxes has abandoned his betrothed, Amastre, and in the absence of a new love sings this touching serenade to a beautiful plane tree. He is overheard and mocked by Romilda, who is hiding, and falls in love with her voice. Romilda, however, is in love with his brother Arsamene. Her sister Atalanta also loves Arsamene and hatches a scheme to bring Romilda and Xerxes together. But then the jilted Amastre appears, disguised as a soldier. As a kind of symbol of the emotional entanglements, Xerxes has a bridge built over the Hellespont, but it is immediately destroyed in a storm. Of course, everything turns out well in the obligatory happy ending. Serse is Handel’s most unconventional contribution to Italian opera. He presents a veritable parody of his own works of emotion and reformation. Handel managed to secure the services of the famous castrato Caffarelli to play the title role, but since no other stars were available the rest of the parts are not especially demanding. Despite this, it is precisely the simpler melodic ideas that evoke particularly intense emotion. The forms of the arias and scenes are more playfully fashioned, and the plot, switching between comedy and tragedy, was intended to satisfy the London audience's desire for entertainment. Despite this, no one came. Today though, Serse, with its amusing plot, is one of Handel’s most popular operas.



Maxim Emelyanychev


Franco Fagioli


Vivica Genaux


Inga Kalna


Francesca Aspromonte


Delphine Galou


Andreas Wolf


Biagio Pizzuti


Il pomo d'oro