Accompanied by his own early music ensemble, Ensemble Artaserse, French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky sings Francesco Cavalli’s Ombra Mai Fu.

Accompanied by his own early music ensemble, Ensemble Artaserse, French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky sings Francesco Cavalli’s Ombra Mai Fu.

Francesco Cavalli’s Ombra Mai Fu

Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676) is an important figure in the history of opera, and his works, which experienced a revival in the 1960s, have grown in popularity in recent years. As Monteverdi’s most prominent successor, Cavalli was active in Venice when opera was transitioning from aristocratic palaces to public theatres. His operas are musically notable for their fluid recitar cantando (“acting in the song”) and dramatically for their tonal variety, combining noble, mythical, or tragic drama with teasing or bawdy comedy.

“Beyond the great musical interest that Cavalli offers, his operas are notable for their richness and modernity, and for the diversity and complexity of their characters,” says Philippe Jaroussky. “Stage directors and opera houses are increasingly keen to stage his works. His operas are full of fantasy, craziness, humor, and emotion. They offer a variety we don’t find in the opera seria of the 18th century.”

As Philippe Jaroussky explains: “Cavalli played a major role in establishing opera-the new genre created by Monteverdi and others – as popular entertainment. He composed many operas for the Teatro San Cassiano, which was the first theatre in Venice to stage opera.”

Cavalli was also active in religious music. As a boy, he sang under Monteverdi’s direction in the choir of St Mark’s Basilica. He later became the cathedral’s organist and eventually, in 1668, its maestro di cappella, the equivalent of a modern-day music director.

When preparing the album “Ombra mai fù,” Jaroussky studied the manuscripts of most of Cavalli’s 37 surviving operas. “I really wanted to use the album’s playing time to show all the variety and qualities of Cavalli’s music. It can sometimes appear disarmingly simple, but it has a very special and distinctive melodic and harmonic flavor. The album is designed to illustrate the contrasts in his operas as they move from one scene to the next, where a lamento might be directly followed by something very humorous.”

Jaroussky has included vocal and instrumental numbers from more than a dozen of Cavalli’s operas, ranging from comparatively well-known works such as “Calisto,” “Ercole amante,” “Ormindo,” and “Giasone” to “Eliogabalo,” recently staged in both Paris and Amsterdam and rarities like “Statira, principessa di Persia” and “La virtù dei strali d’Amore.”

He is joined for the love duets by soprano Emőke Baráth, whose recent Erato recital “Voglio cantar” highlighted the music of Barbara Strozzi, a student of Cavalli, and contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux, who spars with him in the comical duet ‘Ninfa bella’ from “Calisto.”

The title track is taken from the opera “Xerse,” dating from 1654, set to the same libretto that Handel used for his “Serse” more than 80 years later. Outside the opera world, Handel’s version of Emperor Xerxes’ ode to a plane tree is known simply as ‘Handel’s Largo.’ Cavalli’s version, while less famous and less dignified, is more graceful and lilting.

Handel adapted the aria from the setting by the Italian Baroque composer Giovanni Bononcini (18 July 1670 – 9 July 1747), who, in turn, adapted it from the setting by Francesco Cavalli. All three composers had produced settings of the same opera libretto by Nicolò Minato (b. Bergamo, ca. 1627; d. Vienna, 28 February 1698), the Italian poet and librettist.

“Curiously, there are similarities between Cavalli’s and Handel’s settings of ‘Ombra mai fù,’ explains Philippe Jaroussky. “Both are quite short and in triple time. Did Handel know Cavalli’s ‘Xerse’? It’s a possibility. An interesting difference between the two arias is that in Handel’s version the first violin plays along with the voice. In Cavalli’s version, the violin parts are higher and fill in the harmonies, changing constantly and creating a very beautiful effect of iridescence and color.”

On this recording, those violins belong to Ensemble Artaserse, which Jaroussky launched in 2002 in collaboration with other leading musicians in the field of Baroque music.

Ombra mai fu lyrics (Text)


Frondi tenere e belle
del mio platano amato
per voi risplenda il fato.
Tuoni, lampi, e procelle
non v’oltraggino mai la cara pace,
né giunga a profanarvi austro rapace.

Ombra mai fu
di vegetabile,
cara ed amabile,
soave più.

English translation

Tender and beautiful fronds
of my beloved plane tree,
let Fate smile upon you.
May thunder, lightning, and storms
never disturb your dear peace,
nor may you by blowing winds be profaned.

Never was a shade
of any plant
dearer and more lovely,
or sweeter.


M. Özgür Nevres

Published by M. Özgür Nevres

I am Özgür Nevres, a software engineer, a former road racing cyclist, and also an amateur musician. I opened to share my favorite music. I also take care of stray cats & dogs. This website's all income goes directly to our furry friends. Please consider supporting me on Patreon, so I can help more animals!

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