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Handel, George Frideric: Serse
Act 3: Aria, “Crude furie degli orridi abissi” (Serse)
Aria Talk •
Editor's Note: Aria Talk focuses not on the tried-and-true pieces you undoubtedly already know, but on somewhat off-the-beaten-track arias. The hope is that this music will prove a refreshing musical and interpretive change not only for you, the performer, but also for those hearing you in auditions.
This piece can be counted among the most fiery of Handel’s solos originally written for mezzo castrato. Ladies, it’s also one number in which you need not fear competition from your countertenor colleagues — the range is too extended for the majority of them.
To unravel Serse’s plot would take more space than is available here. Suffice it to say that Serse (a.k.a. Xerxes), King of Persia, is betrothed to Amastre, heiress to the throne of Tagor. The basic complication is the eminently desirable Romilda: Serse falls in love with her, although she’s in love with his brother. The brother is loved by Romilda’s feisty sister — but enough already! Late in the opera, Serse’s fury at the wrong he believes Amastre has done him leads him into his rage aria: (“A” section) “Savage furies of the horrid abysses, smother me with your poison!” (“B” section) “May the world collapse and the sun be eclipsed by the anger brewing in my breast.”
Quite a rapid tempo (but not frantic) has to be established from the start to make this work, and the singing has got to be utterly energized from start to finish. There must be easy movement from multiple leaps to complicated runs and back again. At one point you’re on a low D and then, with just one beat of rest, you pull a long-sustained high G out of nowhere. You’ll be expected to ornament appropriately in the da capo, but if that’s your stock in trade, your creativity will really be inspired by this aria.
Recording: Judith Malafronte in complete opera, Conifer #51312; Ann Murray in English-language performance of complete opera (DVD), English National Opera production on RM Arts #5787
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