is based on a libretto which was set
by Cavalli. The original libretto was
typical of Venetian opera of the period,
with a large cast of characters mixing
serious aristocrats with comic servants
very much in the manner of Monteverdi's
L'Incoronazione di Poppea. Handel
seems to have been quite fond of Venetian
libretti and a number of his operas
have their origins in such texts, though
with the comic business usually cut
out. But Handel's Serse is unusual
in that its libretto preserves one of
the comic servants and its tone is unusually
sardonic, undercutting the mock heroics
of the notional hero, Serse. Also the
heroine's sister, Atalanta, is a remarkably
skittish almost comic role.
But we must beware
of calling the opera a comic one. Compared
to the operas of composers like Pergolesi
and Galuppi, Handel's Serse is
not strictly comic. But it is not strictly
serious either and part of the glorious
effect is gained by the way Handel and
his librettist make Serse react in overblown
opera seria manner to rather
This disc, from Poland,
contains excerpts from the opera. These
are not selections from a complete recording,
but simply a project to record all of
Serse and Amastre's arias (plus the
overture) with Polish forces. Amastre
is sung by the distinguished mezzo-soprano
Jadwiga Rappé and Serse by Piotr
Kusiewcz. Unfortunately Kusiewcz is
a tenor, which means transposing all
of Serse's music down an octave; the
role was originally written for a castrato.
Handel did transpose
roles down, but rarely by an octave
and then only in dire emergency. My
first reaction was sadness that they
could not have chosen one of Handel's
operas with a substantial tenor part:
Tamerlano with the glorious role
of Bajazet springs to mind. The effect
of the downwards transposition is to
render Serse more robust and more heroic.
Kusiewicz takes the music and himself
entirely seriously but with the heroic
cast to the tenor's voice we lose much
of the sardonic undercutting.
Kusiewicz has a fine
technique, though it is rather 19th
century in style. He does, however,
manage to negotiate his way through
the many virtuoso passages in the role.
In the final aria on the disc, Crude
furie degl'orridi abissi he copes
brilliantly with the speeds set by Andrzej
Mysinski and the Warsaw Soloists Concerto
Avenna. The result is truly impressive,
but naturally lacks the fleetness which
we might expect in a higher voice.
has a very traditional sounding, dark
contralto voice and so Amastre rather
suits her. The role was written for
a low contralto that specialised in
singing male roles - though for Handel
she sang mainly women - and of course,
Amastre spends most of the opera disguised
as a man. Rappé makes the most
of her lower registers taking the vocal
line down to well below the treble stave.
This is truly impressive but whether
it is in period or in character I'm
not sure. There are passages when you
would like her to lighten the sound
and her duet with Serse, Gran pena
e gelosia, is far too heavy with
the vocal lines too 19th
century in tone.
The disc includes some
recitative, which enables the singers
to give a little context to the arias.
The singers are accompanied
most skilfully by Andrzej Mysinski and
the Warsaw Soloists Concerto Avenna.
Their account of the overture is brilliant
and the fast passages are pretty fast
paced. The group specialises in period-aware
performances played on modern instruments.
Unfortunately I found that the brilliance
in sound comes at a price; by the end
of the overture I found the tone rather
hard-edged. Listening to the entire
disc did not cause me to change my mind,
though there are passages of beauty
and tenderness as well.
The booklet includes
a short article, in English, and the
sung text in Italian, English and Polish.
It does not include a plot summary,
so some knowledge of the opera must
We must, perhaps, be
a little forgiving of the disc as it
was recorded some twenty years ago.
Allowances must be made for improvements
in technique and scholarship. But all
in all this is a slightly disappointing
disc. There is some fine musicianship
on display but it does not add up to
a satisfying disc; only really for recommendation
to those interested in the performers