American countertenor Christopher Lowrey and San Fransisco based early music ensemble Voices of Music perform “Ombra mai fu”, the opening aria from the 1738 opera Serse by George Frideric Handel. A 4K, Ultra HD video from the Voices of Music “Art of the Countertenor” concert, March, 2016.
Table of Contents
The Musicians and their Instruments
Voices of Music performs on original instruments (instruments from the time of the composer):
Lisa Grodin, baroque viola by Mathias Eberl, Salzburg, Austria, 1680
Kati Kyme, baroque violin by Johann Gottlob Pfretzschner, Mittenwald, 1791
Carla Moore, baroque violin by Johann Georg Thir, Vienna, Austria, 1754
Maxine Nemerovski, baroque violin by Joseph Gaffino, Paris, 1769
Elisabeth Reed, baroque cello, anonymous, 1673
Farley Pearce, violone by George Stoppani, Manchester, 1985, after Amati, 1560
David Tayler, archlute by Andreas von Holst, Munich, 2012, after Tieffenbrucker, c1610
Hanneke van Proosdij, baroque organ by Winold van der Putten, Finsterwolde,
Netherlands, 2004, after early 18th-century northern German instruments
Gabrielle Wunsch, baroque violin by Lorenzo Carcassi, Florence, Italy, 1765
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Serse (English title: Xerxes; HWV 40) is an opera seria in three acts by George Frideric Handel. It was first performed in London on 15 April 1738. The Italian libretto was adapted by an unknown hand from that by Silvio Stampiglia for an earlier opera of the same name by Giovanni Bononcini in 1694. Stampiglia’s libretto was itself based on one by Nicolò Minato that was set by Francesco Cavalli in 1654. The opera is set in Persia (modern-day Iran) 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. Serse, originally sung by a soprano castrato, is now usually performed by a soprano (or mezzo-soprano) and sopranist.
The opening aria, “Ombra mai fu”, sung by Xerxes to a plane tree (Platanus orientalis), is set to one of Handel’s best-known melodies, and is often known as Handel’s “Largo” (despite being marked “larghetto” in the score).
The piece is originally composed to be sung by a soprano castrato. It is sung in modern performances of Serse by a countertenor, contralto or a mezzo-soprano.
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
cara ed amabile,
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 more sweet.