Handel - Xerxes

Xerxes, or Serse, to give it the Italian title, may have been a flop at its conception, but its enduring Largo aria has touched many hearts since it was first performed in 1738.


Unexpectedly, Handel's opera, based on the story of Xerxes I of Persia, didn't go down too well in 18th Century England. Caught between the straight-faced drama of an opera seria, and the comic opera buffa style, it disappeared from the stage after a mere five performances at the King's Theatre in London.

But Handel fans shouldn't write this opera off just yet. The opening aria, known as Ombra mai fu , is an operatic favourite thanks to its beautiful plaintive melody. It's one of opera's more unusual love songs, performed by Xerxes as he admires the shade of a plane tree. It's known as Handel's Largo , despite being marked larghetto in the score.

Sadly, other than a few well-loved arias, Handel's operas aren't as popular as his other works. Xerxes was his 35th foray into the genre, following other more successful works including Il pastor fido from 1712, Giulio Cesare from 1724, and Alcina in 1735.

Video: Andreas Scholl sings Ombra mai fu

Handel: Xerxes recordings