Franco Fagioli / Vivica Genaux / Inga Kalna / Maxim Emelyanychev

Handel: Serse

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Handel's 1738 opera Serse (Xerxes) baffled audiences at first hearing with its mixture of tragedy and comedy, but that same mixture has resulted in the opera's steadily rising status in performance today. If you're maxed out on athletic opera seria performances, check it out: it has elements of a put-on of that genre. The plot is kicked off by Serse, the king of ancient Persia, praising a shade tree in the famous aria "Ombra mai fu," whose tune is also known as Handel's Largo. The role of Serse is written for a male countertenor (originally the castrato Caffarelli), who has to keep a level of seriousness as his character becomes involved in increasingly improbably romantic triangles. The key to any spoof is a veneer of seriousness, and if the liquid tones of countertenor Franco Fagioli in "Ombra mai fu" were not enough, then the edgy sound of the historical-instrument group Il Pomo d'Oro under director Maxim Emelyanychev will snare you for the rest. This is a studio recording but is closely based on a 2018 production at the Barbican in London, and there are moments of stage business that don't come through fully in the recording medium. The cast, however, is uniformly strong, with American mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux in the male role of Serse's brother Arsamene, and Latvia's Inga Kalna as one of two sisters in love with Serse. The whole group makes the most of Handel's anonymous but trenchant libretto in what may well become a standard reading of this late Handel opera.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Serse, HWV 40
1 3:24
2 1:55
3 0:43
4 2:51
5 0:26
6 2:08
7 2:27
8 0:23
9 1:57
10 1:24
11 2:39
12 1:07
13 2:41
14 1:20
15 1:58
16 0:31
17 2:09
18 0:15
19 2:42
20 1:49
21 0:23
22 0:41
23 1:01
24 1:50
25 0:42
26 1:39
27 7:40
28 0:38
29 0:34
30 3:46
31 0:19
32 3:53
33 1:11
34 4:17
35 0:16
36 3:48

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Serse, HWV 40
1 0:40
2 0:52
3 2:38
4 2:33
5 0:22
6 1:28
7 0:37
8 1:05
9 1:36
10 1:36
11 0:12
12 1:45
13 0:38
14 0:48
15 6:11
16 0:56
17 2:47
18 0:28
19 1:37
20 0:56
21 2:39
22 0:25
23 0:39
24 0:28
25 1:05
26 1:22
27 2:47
28 0:27
29 2:11
30 0:14
31 5:08
32 1:01
33 1:34
34 1:35
35 1:07
36 2:08
37 1:27
38 4:23

Track Listing - Disc 3

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Serse, HWV 40
1 3:27
2 1:45
3 1:11
4 1:28
5 2:57
6 1:02
7 3:49
8 0:48
9 2:37
10 3:09
11 1:55
12 0:25
13 2:24
14 0:41
15 1:17
16 0:27
17 2:12
18 3:45
19 2:07
20 2:22
21 1:34
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