"Ombra mai fu"
from Serse/Xerxes, HWV40
by George Frideric Handel
libretto by Niccolò Minato
Score (without the recitative):
Premiere: London Haymarket Theatre on April 15, 1738
(Conductor: - )
Serse (soprano castrato): Gaetano Majorano (Caffarelli)
Arsamene (alto): Maria Antonia Marchesini (La Lucchesina)
Amastre (contralto): Antonia Maria Merighi
Romilda (soprano): Elisabeth Duparc (La Francesina)
Atalanta (soprano): Margherita Chimenti (La Droghierina)
Ariodate (bass): Antonio Montagnana
Elviro (bass): Antonio Lottini
In this recording:
Marilyn Horne (Mezzo soprano)
I Solisti Veneti
Conductor: Claudio Scimone
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Serse (Xerxes, HWV40) is an opera seria by George Frideric Handel. The libretto is adapted by an unknown hand from that by Silvio Stampiglia for an earlier opera of the same name by Giovanni Bononcini. Stampiglia's libretto was itself based on one by Nicolò Minato that was set by Francesco Cavalli in 1654.
Serse is considered Handel's most Mozartian opera, and one of his finest. Passion is mixed with farce and satire; the folly of human nature is exposed but never ridiculed. The opera is set in Persia in 480 BC and is very loosely based upon Xerxes I of Persia, though there is little in either the libretto or music that is relevant to that setting. Xerxes is a pants role; that is, it is a male role played by a mezzo-soprano.The opening aria, "Ombra mai fu", sung by Xerxes to a tree (Platanus orientalis), is set to one of Handel's best-known melodies, and is often played in an orchestral arrangement, known as Handel's "largo" (despite being marked "larghetto" in the score).
The opera was a commercial failure, lasting only five performances in London after its premiere. In the 19th century, however, the aria was rediscovered and became one of Handel's best-known pieces. It has often been arranged for other instruments, including solo organ, solo piano, violin and piano, and groups of strings, often with the full title "Largo from Xerxes." Handel adapted the aria from the setting by Bononcini who, in turn, adapted it from the setting by Francesco Cavalli. All three composers had produced settings of the same opera libretto by Niccolò Minato.
Ombra mai fu
cara ed amabile,
Never was there made
a shade of a plant
dear and loving,
or more gentle.