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The Sunday Opera: Handel's "Serse" ("Xerxes")

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A “complete failure” will air as this week’s Sunday Opera (12/31  3:00 p.m.) when Handel’s “Serse” (“Xerxes”) will be presented.  In 1738, this mix of high tragedy and low comedy went against the desires of audiences of the day, but it is this mix that has made it one of Handel’s most beloved and staged operas after, possibly, “Julius Caesar.”  Add to the tragi-comic mix that the king does not get what he wants, accepts it with humility, and lives to tell about it, well, it just made for a bad night of 18th century theatergoing.  Our cast from a 1998 recording includes Judith Malafronte as Xerxes, Jennifer Smith as Romilda, the object of his desire, Susan Bickley as Amastre, the princess to whom he’s been betrothed, and Brian Asawa as Xerxes’ brother Arsamene, the man who loves and is loved by Romilda.  

We mustn’t forget Lisa Milne as Atalanta, Romilda’s sister who complicates the plot because she too is in love with Arsamene.  Their joined by The Hanover Band and Chorus with Nicholas McGegan conducting.  Host Michael Kownacky will round out the rest of the time with more music of Handel including his cantata “La Lucrezia” featuring Patrice Michaels, and an interesting compilation of instrumental music from several of Handel’s operas arranged by Sir Thomas Beecham entitled the Amaryllis Suite.