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Handel: Serse Live, Box set

9 customer reviews

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Audio CD, Live, Box set, November 2, 2004
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Editorial Reviews

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Handel's Serse is mostly known today for (what is known as) its famous "Largo," (the aria "Ombra mai fu") which opens the opera and is a love song to a tree sung by our whimsical, bratty king Serse. The opera concerns Serse's falling in love with his brother Arsamene's fiancée Romilda immediately after hearing her sing--as well as the fact that Romilda's sister Atalanta loves Arsamene, and that Princess Amastre, who has been jilted by Serse, wanders through the opera dressed as a man wanting revenge against Serse. Throw a comic character, Arsamene's servant Elvino, and the pompous Ariodate (Romilda's and Atalanta's father) into the mix, and you've got a wry-but-moving tale. It's brightly performed here by the spectacular Anne Sofie von Otter in the title role, mezzo Silvia Tro Santafé a nicely offended Amastre; bass Anonio Abete brilliant as the wacky Elvino; and, most gloriously, countertenor Lawrence Zazzo as Arsamene. Not counting some mediocre singing by our Romilda, the others in the cast are worthy, and William Christie leads his grand band, Les Arts Florissants, in a lively, naturally paced, bristling-with-drama show. A fine performance of a great opera. --Robert Levine

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Product Details

  • Orchestra: Les Arts Florissants
  • Conductor: William Christie
  • Composer: George Frideric Handel
  • Audio CD (November 2, 2004)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 3
  • Format: Live, Box set
  • Note on Boxed Sets: During shipping, discs in boxed sets occasionally become dislodged without damage. Please examine and play these discs. If you are not completely satisfied, we'll refund or replace your purchase.
  • Label: Virgin Vertias
  • ASIN: B0002TB6L6
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #284,675 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By J. Luis Juarez Echenique on January 5, 2005
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Anne Sofie von Otter launches splendidly this performance with one of the loveliest "Ombra mai fu" ever recorded. She is so good in the title role that even the excellent Carolyn Watkinson in the old CBS version is put in the shade; but there is much else that is wonderful here, Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz and especially Sandrine Piau sing like angels, and watch out for Lawrence Zazzo, one of the most promising young countertenors around, they all are ideal in their roles, giving characterful and lively performances. But it is the great William Christie and his matchless musicians who deserve the highest praise, they turn Serse which in the wrong hands can sound less than inspired, into a very beautiful score. The Malgoire recording is nowhere as well played, and the McGegan recording is nowhere as well sung.

This gets my vote as the best opera recording of 2004, followed closely by Alan Curtis Deidamia (Virgin)and Lotario (DHM). Handel was very lucky this year.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By R. H. Fitzsimmons on October 12, 2005
Format: Audio CD
The competition for this recording is not exactly stiff. Malgoire's 1970s effort is a worthy complete recording with some superb singing from Carolyn Watkinson in the title role, though some less than distinguished singing from others. McGegan's recording had a ham-like David Thomas as Elviro, perhaps going a little further than taste demanded, and Judith Malafronte as a rather non-descript Serse.

This new recording from William Christie and Les Arts Florissants is a joy to savour and, although the booklet says it is a live recording, there is thankfully little off-stage interruption/noise, and few indications of audience participation unlike the recent Dynamic recording of Vivaldi's Rosmira Fedele, or even the Munich Serse on Farao.

The orchestral playing of Les Arts Florissants is impeccable, though Christie has not resisted temptation in beefing up the sting lines with anachronistic recorder lines. At least he avoided doubling everything with a chamber organ (Rene Jacobs take note). Christie has not always made the transition into Handel that easily - his Orlando was received in a lukewarm fashion I believe - but his sure touch is evident here in judiciously chosen tempi and his dramatic flare at just about all the right places.

As far as the singers go: Larry Zazzo is utterly convincing as Arsamene - heroic in Si la voglio, and a pathetic but still virile lover in some of Arsamene's more limpid music. His diction is superb, as is his sense of dramatic awareness - perhaps easier to put across here in a live performance. Antonio Abete is thankfully not a Ham as Elviro, although perhaps his descent into falsetto in the opening to Act 2 will wear after repeated listening.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Leila on November 23, 2004
Format: Audio CD
I cannot compare with any other recording of this opera, since this is the first time I have heard it complete. I bought this because Von Otter is, for me, a guarantee of a good recording, good performance AND good acting. I must say this recording is better than I expected. You may not like live performances, but there's where you can tell if a singer is good or not or if you like him/her or not, better than in any studio recording.

I have two other Handel's operas with Von Otter in the cast, and they are superb and I highly recommend this trio : Serse, Giulio Cesare and Hercules.

Being a fan of Handel, I do hope Mr.Marc Minkowsky and Mr.William Christie keep up the good job of bringing back to life ALL Handel's operas with such good casts.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Vitis Arbiter on August 30, 2005
Format: Audio CD
The benchmark recording for this opera is the Maureen Forrester recording on Westminster, unfortunately not available in CD as yet. Anne Sofie von Otter is very good as Serse and Elizabeth Norberg-Shultz is also very good as Romilda. But are they the equal of Mareen Forrester and the uniquely-voiced Lucia Popp. Perhaps the one clear difference in the two performances is the use of a counter-tenor vice mezzo-soprano for the role of Arsamene, Serse's brother. It show in the great duet, "Alma fiera" in the third act where the counter-tenor lacks the vocal fireworks to make this duet really rock. Clearly this is best Serse currently available on CD.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By D. DEGEORGE VINE VOICE on December 17, 2007
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
On the whole this recording of Serse is elegant, committed, stylish, and a delight. Von Otter performs the "Ombra mai fu" with touching sensitivity. I can only surmise that the weakness of her performance of "Crude Furie," near the end of the opera, may have simply been a matter of tiring out before the end of a live performance.

Paula Rasmussen, in another live performance, available on DVD (Handel - Serse / Rasmussen, Piau, Bayrakdarian, Bardon, Hallenberg, Peirone, Lippi, Rousset, Les Talens Lyriques, Dresden Opera), brings all the energy and fire to "Crude Furie" that von Otter lacked. If you want drama, that performance is to be preferred over this CD.

Yet, this Arts Florissants CD has so many wonderfully musical sections that I highly recommend it as a companion to the above-mentioned DVD.

For the benefit of those who, like me, acquired their love of Handel at a time before "authentic," or period-instrument performances became the standard, I can add that William Christie downplays the most annoying of the mannerisms that musicologists believe to have been a part of Baroque practice. (To a fair degree, Christie avoids the trap of making every phrase rigidly obey a particular, presumably historically mandated, shape, a practice that makes me seasick after a while. Instead, he takes the more musical and creative approach of varying the phrasing a bit.) I still wouldn't mind having a recording that had the gravitas of an "incorrect" mid-to-late twentieth-century performance, but my "gravitas" is a younger person's "stodginess"; so I am content with this very musical performance, as well as the slightly more extroverted one on the Dresden Opera DVD.
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