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Xerxes, known also as Serse, is a phenomenal opera series by the legendary George Frideric Handel. It is composed of three acts and was first performed live to an audience in London in 1738. Its Italian libretto was adapted from the work of Silvio Stampiglia, done for an opera of the same name earlier in 1694 by Giovanni Bononcini. Its setting is Persia and it is based upon the Persian emperor of the same name, Xerxes I of Persia.
Xerxes, known also as Serse, was originally sung by a castrato vocalist. It is now often performed by a contralto, mezzo-soprano or countertenor. The Italian title of the opera, Serse, is less used that its English title, which is used widely. The opening aria of the opera, Ombra mai fu, is regarded as one of the best melodies by George Frideric Handel and is often played by an orchestra. Over the course of his career, he wrote many an opera, of which this is one of the best known.
Xerxes, known originally by Italian title, Serse, was a work which the King's Theatre located in London commissioned George Frideric Handel to write. It was one of the two operas he was hired to write, the first of them being Faramondo. In 1738, Serse debuted at the King's Theatre in London. It was rather innovative for its time, as it combined tragedy with comedy and hilarious antics when opera seria were expected to be serious works.
Xerxes, English for Serse, was then revived in 1924 by Oscar Hagen in Gottingen. It was staged nearly a hundred times in fifteen different cities in Germany, resulting in a renewed interest in the opera. It became one of the most popular operas to modern audiences, the second most popular Handel opera. It was the comedy and the shortness of its aria that appealed to modern audiences, characteristics that had actually confused the opera's original audience during the eighteenth century.
This particular performance of Xerxes is by Jacobs School of Music's Indiana University Opera and Ballet Theatre, part of the Indiana University in Bloomington. It has already attracted much attention with many opera goers grabbing hold of cheap Xerxes tickets as soon as they became available. This is the next production of the opera after one staged by the Cleveland Institute of Music in 2010.
Recordings of this opera have also been made, with the first in 1979 which was highly acclaimed and performed by the English National Opera in commemoration of the three hundredth anniversary of Handel. It was conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras and directed by Nicholas Hytner. It starred Ann Murray in the lead role with Valeria Masterson voicing Romilda, Lesley Garrett voicing Atalanta and Arsamene voiced by Christopher Robson.
In short, for those looking for a hilarious combination of opera and comedy, with a touch of tragedy, buying Xerxes tickets leads to a seat at the Indiana University Opera and Ballet theatre where this opera will be performed.