Xerxes (including Ombra Mai Fu)
George Frideric Handel


Listen to this piece at composed.com now

Handel has 7 entries in the Ultimate Hall of Fame — the same as Schubert and Wagner — and this is his second. This has appeared in every Hall of Fame chart apart from in 2013.

A short sortie into the plot of Xerxes brings home how little entertainment has changed over the centuries. Today, we can't get enough of our costume dramas replete with steamy characters, set against backdrops of ancient intrigues.

Well, Xerxes follows pretty much the same formula. It focuses on a particular supposedly accurate point in the life of the Persian King Xerxes I (who lived from 485 BC to 465 BC). Indeed, it contains one or two other moments that are said to be true. But, beyond them, Handel allows his librettist to suspend time, and to engage in a largely invented gossipy plot. The music, though, is simply divine, especially if one is hearing a version using the original idea of Xerxes as a counter-tenor, rather than the female voice so often used today.