Review: SERSE, Opera Holland Park

A wonderfully entertaining spectacle

By: Jul. 01, 2022
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Review: SERSE, Opera Holland Park

Review: SERSE, Opera Holland Park This historical revival of Handel's Serse particularly emphasises the humorous aspects of the opera, thereby creating a wonderfully entertaining spectacle from start to finish.

Serse is an unusual piece. Despite featuring the tragic sounding arias and heartfelt moments we know from Handel's wider oevre, Serse is, above all, a comedy. The plot is tightly knit, its characters are all over-the-top and ridiculous, as are the interactions, and all the while the music is just as heavenly as one expects from Handel.

The plot centres around jealous and love-obsessed Serse (Cecelia Hall), who tries to win the affections of Romilda (Sarah Tynan), who in turn is in love with Arsamene (James Laing). Meanwhile, Atalanta (Anna Cavaliero), Romilda's sister, is also secretly in love with Arsamene and plays a few tricks to try to get Romilda to fall in love with Serse.

Of course it's not the most modern of plots, but it's all absurdly ironic and pokes bucket loads of fun at the characters, whether it's Serse, who in the opening sings a love aria towards a tree ("Ombra mai fu") or Arsamene, whose over-the-top complaints are a clear parody of typical lovestruck heroes.

And it's in highlighting these humorous aspects of the opera that the production shines. Hall's Serse is beautifully performed, both musically and in her acting. Her voice dominates the stage whether in more sensual arias, to which she brings a lyric sensuality, or her later rage-filled moments; and all the while her facial expressions and gestures are absolutely spot on to highlight the ridiculousness of her character.

Cavaliero's Atalanta is hilariously mischievous. Hers is a lovely soprano with subtle tones in her voice, adding to the further complexities and joy of the piece. Laing and Tynan as Arsamene and Romilda have a splendid chemistry on stage and are terrifically silly. Timothy Nelson stars as both Arsamene's servant and Romilda's father and masters both perfectly.

It is evident throughout that the whole cast is having a great time with Serse - fantastic when watching a comedic opera.

The production itself is directed by Sam Rayner and features few stage props and includes historical costumes, as expected. But it is the utilisation of an ensemble of actors as both acrobats and servants to Serse that make the production stand out. They often add necessary movement to the opera to keep its up-beat nature fresh and lend a more slapstick-style of comedic action to the entire experience. Occasionally this does feel a bit out of place, but when they're utilised at their best - such as when interacting with Serse as they are at the mercy of his every whim - they are spectacular.

Musically, the performance is impressive. Musical director Frederick Waxman is outstanding and the utilisation of historical instruments, including two theorbos, and creates a wonderfully authentic sounding ambience. Coupled with the brilliant singing performances from the entire cast, this is a performance that is a tremendous success.

The season at Opera Holland Park continues with Margot La Rouge/Le Villi 21 July

Photo Credit: Figure