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Dresdner Musikfestspiele 2000 - George Frideric Handel: Xerxes (Serse) - Dramma per musica (2000)

| Music, Comedy, Romance | TV Movie
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Cast

Credited cast:
Paula Rasmussen ...
Ann Hallenberg ...
Arsamene, his brother
Patricia Bardon ...
Amastre, Princess, betrothed to Xerxes
Marcello Lippi ...
Ariodate, Commander of Xerxes's army
Isabel Bayrakdarian ...
Romilda, his daughter
Sandrine Piau ...
Atalanta, his second daughter
Matteo Peirone ...
Elviro, Servant to Arsamene
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Christophe Rousset ...
Himself - Conductor
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opera | live performance | See All (2) »

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Music | Comedy | Romance

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Serse  »

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Soundtracks

Serse, Opera in three acts
Music by George Frideric Handel (as Georg Friedrich Händel)
Libretto after "Xerse" by Nicolo Minato, revised by Silvio Stampiglia
Performed by Paula Rasmussen, Ann Hallenberg, Patricia Bardon, Marcello Lippi,
Isabel Bayrakdarian, Sandrine Piau, Matteo Peirone with Les Talens Lyriques
Coducted by Christophe Rousset
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User Reviews

 
Good Reason for Looking at Handel's Italian Operas
2 July 2006 | by (Sarnia, Ontario) – See all my reviews

I had to "correct" the spelling of the Italian song titles to post this. Oh well …

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.

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 comb l'end re", 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.

Picking the best singer may be impossible but Sandrine Piau is clearly the best actress. It's not because any of the other cast members are weak. They're not. She's just that good. She's physically expressive enough to define her character clearly without dialog or music. Her timing is fabulous and she plays the role with the glee kittens have when they find a new ball of wool. And her singing is as good as her acting. Her technique is breathtaking. She never sounds strained or shrill even in the most difficult passages. The music Handel wrote for the part of "Atalanta" is extremely demanding but Piau navigates the toughest passages with ease. She's a joy to watch and listen to.

There are plenty of highlights. Anne Hallenberg's rendition of "Non so,SE Si la sperm" is fabulous. The duet between her and (Paula) Rasmussen, "Io Le diró Che l'Ami"/ "Tu Le Dari Che l'Ami" is delivered brilliantly. Rasmussen's performance of "Ombra Mai f" is easily on par with the recent version released by Renée Fleming. Patricia Bardon rends the heart strings with her interpretation of "Cagion son Io MI do lore" and Sandrine Piau shows how to handle vocal acrobatics the right way when she sings "Dirá, Che amour per me". The Sinfonia that opens the third act is three and a half minutes of pure enchantment. The list goes on …

Christophe Rousset has emerged as a brilliant conductor. It shouldn't be a surprise though. His experience with this repertoire and his credentials as a harpsichordist make him a natural to take this step. His tempo is flexible but nothing ever seems rushed or slow. The balance he maintains between the singers and the orchestra is excellent and he knows when to pull back or add some force. Best of all, he's only going to get better.

The staging is set somewhere between the era of British Imperialism and what looks like a Puccini take on modern day Persia. The sets are extravagant, often bordering on garish but they never overpower the action. Most are glass (probably Plexiglass for safety reasons) or tile in a framework that's meant to look as if it's made of Stainless Steel. The tree set in the midst of most of them sits in a display case of similar design and material. They're colorful and loud but they provide an air of splendor that would be expected in the court of a Monarch. The sound is also good. It's not quite on par with the audio found on many concert DVD releases but it's clear and vibrant. And it's not burdened with the endless line of delay (artificial ambiance that sounds as legitimate as a three dollar bill feels) that's finding its way to host of releases these days either. The menus are easy to navigate, the only quirk being that the subtitles have to be activated manually.

There are a few things that make suspension of belief difficult. Sandrine Piau and Isabel Bayrakdarian are never going to convince anybody they're from the same bloodline let alone the same parents. Patricia Bardon doesn't even begin to look like a man. This may be intentional (given the fact that Paula Rasmussen and Anne Hallenberg are entirely convincing) but she still should have to come across as "masculine enough" to fool the other cast members. She doesn't. She has too many voluptuously sexy curves that stand out like, well, voluptuously sexy curves. Last (but far from least), the "instant resolution" (so typical of Grand Opera once the Librettist and Composer run out of time and music) for the two and a half hours of muddled lust set to song strains credibility as much as the idea of Bayrakdarian and Piau being sisters.

But it opens the door for Isabel Bayrakdarian to sing a great piece of music to close the show with so all is forgiven. And it really is forgiven. The absurdities aside, this is a wonderful production. Yes, the story is silly. But the performances are engaging and the music is beautiful. It's great entertainment.

That's what really counts.


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