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The other comic role in Serse is the servant Elviro. His role is the sole survivor from the original libretto (written for Cavalli) of a group of comic servants. In previous adaptations of Venetian opera librettos, Handel and his librettists had always removed all the comic scenes, but here Elviro is left. Well played by Antonio Abete, his well-modulated performance as a curmudgeonely servant was only marred by an over camped-up opening to Act 2, with some unlovely switches to falsetto.

Handel also kept much of the original libretto's pace, so that the characters frequently sing short arias dependent on the drama rather than a sequence of large da capo aria. It is this pacey character, combined with the brilliant music, that has helped keep Serse in the repertoire. Balance is kept by the resolutely serious character of Amastre, who is Serse's original fiancee. Written originally for a contralto who specialised in travesty roles, Amastre spends most of the opera in disguise as a man, observing Serse's antics with increasing horror. Amastre is a passionate part and the Spanish mezzo-soprano Silvia Tro Santafe seemed at first to be more concerned with careful technical execution rather than passionate intensity. She has an attractively dark and distinctive voice, and as the plot developed, so did her passionate involvement. A petite figure, she also performed in trousers which is a profound help to the audience in a concert performance of an opera with a fair degree of cross dressing!

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Copyright © 1 December 2003 Robert Hugill, London UK


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