Accompanied by the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, the French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky sings Ombra mai fu, the opening aria from the 1738 opera Serse by George Frideric Handel. Conductor: Vasily Petrenko.
Ombra mai fu
“Ombra mai fu” is a famed aria from the opera “Serse” (often referred to as “Xerxes”) by the German-born Baroque composer George Frideric Handel. The opera was first performed in 1738 in London. It wasn’t immediately successful when it premiered, but over time, it has gained appreciation, particularly for this specific aria.
The title translates from the Italian as “Never was a shade”. It is sung at the very beginning of the opera by the main character, Xerxes I of Persia, admiring the shade of a plane tree.
Ombra mai fu is often referred to as Handel’s “Largo” due to its slow and stately tempo, although the term “Largo” isn’t used in the original score.
The lyrics of the aria are a tribute to the shade and comfort of a plane tree under which the king finds solace. In the context of the aria, King Serse sings to the tree, expressing his admiration and appreciation for its beauty and the comfort it offers. Interestingly, the content of the aria is not reflective of the rest of the opera, which is a tale of romantic complications and mistaken identities.
The text of “Ombra mai fu” is in Italian, and when translated, the opening lines convey the sentiment of the piece: “Never was a shade of any plant dearer and more lovely, or more sweet.”
What makes “Ombra mai fu” stand out is its serene melody and lush orchestration, which evoke a feeling of tranquility and peace. Over the years, it has become one of Handel’s most recognized and frequently performed pieces, often played on solemn occasions, and has been arranged for various instrumentations.
Although “Serse” as an entire work isn’t as frequently performed as some of Handel’s other operas, “Ombra mai fu” has definitely secured its place in the annals of classical music as one of the composer’s most beloved arias.
The title translates from the Italian as “Never was a shade”. It is sung by the main character, Xerxes I of Persia, admiring the shade of a plane tree.
Ombra mai fu lyrics
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,
The Konzerthausorchester Berlin is a symphony orchestra based in Berlin, Germany. The orchestra is resident at the Konzerthaus Berlin, designed by the architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The building was destroyed during World War II and was rebuilt from 1979 to 1984.
The orchestra was founded in 1952 as the Berliner Sinfonie-Orchester (Berlin Symphony Orchestra) in what was then East Berlin, as a rival ensemble to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra based in West Berlin. The first chief conductor was Hermann Hildebrandt.
After German reunification in 1989, the orchestra was threatened with dissolution, but subscriber action maintained the ensemble. The orchestra acquired its current name in 2006. (This orchestra is separate from the West-Berlin-based Berliner Symphoniker, founded in 1967.)
In 1974 the Berlin Sinfonietta was founded to serve as the chamber orchestra of the “Berlin Symphony Orchestra” today the “Konzerthausorchester Berlin”.
Kurt Sanderling was the longest-serving chief conductor of the orchestra, from 1960 to 1977.
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