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Handel - Serse / Rasmussen, Piau, Bayrakdarian, Bardon, Hallenberg, Peirone, Lippi, Rousset, Les Talens Lyriques, Dresden Opera (2005)

Sandrine Piau , Paula Rasmussen  |  NR |  DVD

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HANDEL: Serse (Xerxes) (Semperoper Dresden, 2000)   $3.99 $14.99

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Editorial Reviews

Paula Rasmussen, Ann Hallenberg, Patricia Bardon, Marcello Lippi, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Sandrine Piau, and Matteo Peirone star in this Handel opera with Christophe Rousset conducing the Ludwigshafener Theaterchor and LEs Talens Lyriques.

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
62 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It Simply Doesn't Get Any Better Than This! November 24, 2005
In the past, to the degree that Handel's 'Serse' ('Xerxes') remained in the memory of the general music-lover, it was for its opening aria, 'Ombra mai fu' (often simply called 'Handel's Largo' or 'The Largo from Xerxes') that it is remembered. But since the re-examination of Handel's operas of the last thirty years or so, the opera has become very popular, second only to 'Julius Caesar' in its number of mountings. And this one at the Semper Opera from the 2000 Dresden Music Festival is simply stunningly done. It is under the musical direction of Christophe Rousset, leading his 'Les Talens Lyriques' who together have received nothing but plaudits for their presentations of baroque opera. The orchestral playing is simply superb. And the cast! There is not single weak member among the seven principals. Rousset made the decision to have King Xerxes sung by a coloratura mezzo-soprano, the American Paula Rasmussen; the role had originally been written for and sung by the castrato Caffarelli. The two daughters of Xerxes's commanding general, Romilda and Atalanta, are sung by two of the leading young sopranos of our day, respectively Isabel Bayrakdarian and Sandrine Piau. Amastre, a young woman who had been previously jilted by Xerxes and now posing as a young man (don't ask!), is sung fervently by the Irish contralto Patricia Bardon. Xerxe's brother Arsamene, and his contender for the hand of Romilda, is sung by Swedish mezzo Ann Hallenberg. (One is easily able to believe both Rasmussen and Hallenberg as male.) The only two male voices in the cast are Marcello Lippi as Ariodate, the general, and Matteo Peirone, as Arsamene's servant (and the primary comic character), Elviro.

The sets and costumes by Carlo Tommasi are gorgeous.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
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The plot (?) of this piece basically has everybody loving somebody doesn't love them except for one couple who love each other in secret. They fend off advances from another man who loves the secretly loved sister while the jealous and manipulative (but not really bad) sister does her best to split them up; she wants the man her sister is with. There's more but it's even more confusing.

Don't worry about it. This is a great production. The music is great, the staging is great and the singers are great.

It's impossible to pick the best singer from this ensemble. Isabel Bayrakdarian has a great voice, excellent technique and her performances are always tasteful. She gets to sing "Né men combe l'endre", one of the loveliest arias in the entire opera. Anyone who's not moved by her rendition of this piece is probably already dead. Paula Rasmussen's voice has the lightest tonal shadings of the three mezzo-sopranos in the cast. Her voice is smooth, well controlled and mostly free of vibrato. Anne Hallenberg has a deeper pitch and sings with bell-like tones that resonate through the air. There's a considerable amount of vibrato in her voice but she controls it well. Patricia Bardon has a voice that's powerful and exceptionally deep. And she uses those shadings to convey emotion well. She is one of the standouts of the cast.

The two men in the cast are both bass baritones. Marcello Lippi's voice is deep and commanding but multi-faceted as well. He uses it to convey the thoughtful nature of a philosopher the warmth of a parent and the authority of a commander with equal aplomb. Matteo Peirone has a higher voice and silkier tones but plenty of range and volume. He provides most of the comic relief and he does it well.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As Flimsy as a Shakespeare Comedy... June 5, 2009
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... but all the wit goes into the music rather than the word play. Shakespeare and the sundry Italian librettists who wrote for Handel had the same roots in Italian Renaissance farces and commedia dell'arte. With the subtitles on the DVD, you'll suffer only moderate confusion, trying to keep the twists of the story straight, but it doesn't matter. Any sprightly acting or artful stagecraft is way secondary to the flow of glorious music, including some of Handel's finest arias and duets. In fact, the very first arioso by Serse is the famous "ombra mai fu", which you will find sung by everybody and her brother on YouTube, an excursion I heartily recommend.

In this performance, the role of Serse is sung superbly by soprano Paula Rasmussen, and her "ombra mai fu" is the most affectively perfect I've ever heard. Her acting in male drag is nearly as impressive; she's as narcissistic and willful a tyrant as the role requires. Arsamene, the tyrant's brother and rival in love, is a role of comical frustration and impotence, sung and acted ripely by Ann Hallenberg. The woman both brothers love is Romilda, sung richly by Isabel Bayrakdarian, but Imilda has a 'kid' sister, Atalanta, who is set on stealing Arsamene from her sister. Sandrine Piau, as Atalanta, fails to steal a lover but steals the show, acting with coy capricious vivacity and singing at a level few sopranos have ever reached. The smaller role of Amastre, sung by Patricia Bardon, is curious; Amastre is a woman, the rejected fiancée of Serse, disguised until the final scene as a man. All of these roles were presumably sung, in the opera's opening in London in 1738, by imported 'castrati' from Italy.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Can't believe I so enjoyed an opera with "modern" production
This nitpicky old grouch truly enjoyed the heck out of this "mild-modern" production. One cannot call it traditional, but it's certainly not 'euro-trash'. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Brent Peterson
5.0 out of 5 stars I <3 Handel
This comedy opera is delightful! It arrived last week and I've watched it 3 times already. If you don't even like opera, you will like this, a pleasure for your eyes and ears.
Published 19 months ago by mousefan
5.0 out of 5 stars A great performance
This is an outstanding rendition of Handel's beautiful opera. The singing is top notch with a great lead performance by Paula Rasmussen as Xerses. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Philip C. Nasca
4.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable with improved processing from the Euroarts re-issue
This 2000 production of Handel's late comic opera, Serse, is very enjoyable and scores highly on several counts. Read more
Published on July 7, 2012 by I. Giles
5.0 out of 5 stars Miss this and die!
The French baroque expert Christophe Rousset contributed much to the 21st century baroque operatic development. Read more
Published on December 28, 2011 by A. F. S. Mui
5.0 out of 5 stars A showcase of baroque opera - not to be missed!
Let me confess that the cast, apart from the conductor Christophe Roussett and orchestra Les Talens Lyriques, is virtually unknown to me, though this performance was recorded in... Read more
Published on December 19, 2011 by Abert
1.0 out of 5 stars Serse
The vocal virtuosity was extraordinary. These people were extremely talented. However the plot was tragic, very gloomy, dark, and dreary. Read more
Published on May 12, 2011 by Delilah
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb
I love Baroque opera, and Handel in particular, but I've been burned by trashy modern productions--I have a DVD of Alcina that I can't watch--so I was hesitant to buy this--but I'm... Read more
Published on July 13, 2009 by BillBC
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, yes...but
This is a wonderful production, well sung, costumed and designed. However, I was surprised to find that it did not satisfy me as completely as the old English National Opera... Read more
Published on January 6, 2008 by Robert Baksa
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Version of Xerxes
I have to agree with the other reviews, this was an interesting, well-crafted version of a fine Handel opera. Read more
Published on September 24, 2007 by Connor Newlon
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