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Cat. No. CHAN 0797(3) Price: £21 No. of discs: 3
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CHAN 0797 - Handel: Serse
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Available From: 26 August 2013
Handel: Serse
Handel’s opera Serse is characterised by its ironic libretto, humorous situations, and high number of short arias.
The main character is the unpredictably obsessive and volatile King Xerxes, a historical character who ruled the Achemenid Empire from 486 BC to 465 BC. The plot concerning the rivalry between Xerxes and his brother, Arsamene, for Romilda, however, is entirely fictional, as is the King’s betrayal of his fiancé, Amastre.
The opera is based on a libretto adapted by the poet Silvio Stampiglia for Giovanni Bononcini, whose setting was staged at Rome’s Teatro di Torre Nona in 1694. Handel completed his opera in 1738 in little more than a month. However, his typically swift pace and resourceful treatment of musical themes and models should not be misconstrued as complacency, carelessness, or low imaginative powers. The autograph manuscript reveals that Handel invested considerable skill in arias that are perfectly tailored to the dramatic storyline, many of which were meticulously crafted and then redrafted.
The opera was premiered at The King’s Theatre on the Haymarket on 15 April 1738, but it only received five performances, which at the time ranked it as one of Handel’s worst commercial failures. The opera was not performed again until Oscar Hagen’s arrangement was staged at Göttingen in 1924, after which several productions in the USA and the UK followed. In recent times, the work has finally received the recognition it deserves, partly thanks to the uncut production, mounted at English National Opera to mark the composer’s 300th birthday in 1985.
Serse is here performed by the Early Opera Company under Christian Curnyn, who won a BBC Music Award in 2013 for its recording of Handel’s Alceste. They are joined on this recording by a host of excellent soloists including Rosemary Joshua in the role of Romilda, Anna Stéphany as Xerxes, David Daniels as Arsamene, and Hilary Summers as Amastre. 

“…The singers balance each other well as an ensemble. A particular highlight is Anna Stéphany’s ‘Crude furie’, sung with virtuosity and rage. Andreas Wolf’s Elviro is very colourful, and his flower-selling squawk in ‘Ah chi voler fiora di bella giardina’ provides a welcome humerous interjection. Each character is coloured very individually … The orchestra, seen as a separate entity, is pleasingly tight and precise…”

Frauke Jurgensen – The Consort ( The Journal of the Dolmetsch Foundation – Vol 70) Summer 2014

  “… Christian Curnyn leads a strong performance, ranging effortlessly from comic to tragic, and slighting neither mockery nor moments of intense affection. Orchestral ornamentation is subtly appliedto good affect in the continuo, and the Early Opera Company is both spirited and disciplined…”

Barry Brenesal – Fanfare – March/April 2014

"...the interpretations are outstanding. Anna Stéphany, in the title role, is enchanting as a ruler subject to all manner of events, notably the unexpected over which he has no control, and the almost whimsical, which reflect his own character. This is not, on the face of it, a king setting out to conquer the known world. Throughout Serse all the performers maintain this lighthearted quality. For example, Elviro, a servant of Xerxes’ brother Arsamene, is depicted as a panicky and nervous individual. Bass-baritone Andreas Wolf takes full advantage of this in his singing. There is definitely a liveliness to this version of Serse – over all 94 (!) of its tracks."
Michael Schwartz - thewholenote.com - 29 January 2014

                                  Interpretation ***      Sound Quality ****         Repertoire ***        Booklet ****
Benjamin Künzel - Klassik.com - 7 January 2014

                         ***** _ Exceptional
Marco Bizzanini - Musica magazine (Italy) - November 2013

                             Album of the Week
"... This, Curnyn’s fourth complete handel opera recording for Chandos, goes to the top of the list of original-language performances on disc, thanks to the conductor’s unerring sense of style, devoid of postmodern distortions and interpretative exaggerations, and his sensitive approach to tempo, as well as the exceptionally fine cast... A total success."
Hugh Canning - The Sunday Times (Culture magazine) - 6 October 2013

 "You only need listen to the first three tracks, including "Ombra mai fu" ... to sense this is going to be an extremely classy account of a Handel opera. The remaining two and a half hours amply fulfil that promise... Unlike most Handel operas, Serse doesn’t need to be cut for modern performance. In the title tole (Xerxes), Anna Stéphany can complete with the best of today’s mezzos: she combines feeling, dignity, elegance. And with such polished Handelians as David Daniels, Hilary Summers, Brindley Sherratt and Rosemary Joshua in other leading roles, plus an enchanting young American soprano Joélle Harvey, as Atlanta, this really is a baroque vocal feast. If the ’style’ element is slightly understated, that’s because Curnyn shows such an easy command of the idiom: there is no aggressive accenting or exaggeration of tempo... on CD this new version easily outshines previous sets..."  *****
Andrew Clark - The Financial Times - 28-29 September 2013

 "... this is probably the Serse Handelians have been waiting for on disc. Curnyn may not be the most demonstrative or daring of Handel conductors, but the tempos he chooses seem invariably right and he declines to indulge in the stunts and eccentricities of some of his European rivals in this repertoire ... "
Hugh Canning - International Record Review - October 2013

                    Performance ****       Recording *****
"... Conductor Christian Curnyn’s spry, supple reading effortlessly shadows the mood-swings of mezzo-soprano Ana Stéphany’s Serse from the balmy ’Ombra mai fù’ to the stinging fioritura of ’Crude furie’. It’s a stunning central performance, comfortaly matched by incisive playing from the Early Opera Company orchestra.Sopranos RosemaryJoshua (as Romilda) and Joélle Harvey (Atalanta) melt and sparkle to order ..."
Anna Picard - BBC Music magazine - November 2013

"... It [the opera] needs a special light touch, and Christian Curnyn supplies that in abundance in this flowing, affectionate and beautifully shaped reading. The cast is superb throughout, from Rosemary Joshua’s brightly focused Romilda, through Joélle Harvey’s ethereal Atlanta ... right down to Brindley Sherratt’s blustering Ariodate. But it’s Anna Stéphany’s show: she sweeps all before her as a magnificent Serse. This is one of the most consistently satisfying current Handel opera recordings."
Nicholas Kenyon - The Observer - 22 September 2013

                     Gramophone Opera Choice
"... for anyone wanting to acquire this jewel among Handel’s later operas, this beautifully recorded new version is he one to go for."
Richard Wigmore - Gramophone magazine - September 2013


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