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Ombra mai fu (Serse)
  • Ombra mai fu (Serse)
  • Rolando Villazón, Gabrieli Players, Paul McCreesh
  • Handel

George Frideric Handel (1785-1859).

Ombra mai fu” is the opening aria from the 1738 opera SerseThe opera was a commercial failure, lasting only five performances in London after its premiere. In the 19th century, however, the aria was rediscovered and became one of Handel’s best-known pieces. On 24 December 1906, Reginald Fessenden, a Canadian inventor and radio pioneer, broadcast the first AM radio program, which started with a phonograph record of “Ombra mai fu”. The aria therefore was the first piece of music to be broadcast on radio.

The title translates from the Italian as “Never was a shade”. It is sung by the main character, Xerxes I of Persia, admiring the shade of a plane tree.

“Tender and beautiful fronds
of my beloved plane tree,
let Fate smile upon you.
May thunder, lightning, and storms
never disturb your dear peace,
nor may you by blowing winds be profaned.

Never was a shade
of any plant
dearer and more lovely,
or more sweet.”


Just me serving some Serse realness.


Here’s my latest video from International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition in Amsterdam!


aka “the aria in serse that is like a million times better than ombra mai fù”
aka “do baroque conductors ever look like normal people. no”

“Crude furie degli orridi abissi” from Serse
Joyce DiDonato & Ensemble Matheus


Ombra mai fu from Handel’s Serse, sung by Alice Coote (in English).





Admeto, King of Thessaly, is mortally ill. His brother Trasimede is reported to be sighing over the portrait of a woman (Antigona). When Admeto’s wife Alceste prays to Apollo for his recovery, she is answered by a voice from the statue of the god: Admeto can only be saved if someone consents to die in his place. Alceste prepares to sacrifice herself for her husband.

Antigona, a Trojan princess, who was once betrothed to Admeto (sight unseen) and her companion Meraspe prepare to go to the palace, disguised as a shepherdess and shepherd.

Alceste kills herself and her husband recovers his health to find his wife dead. He begs Ercole (Hercules) to rescue her from Hades. Meanwhile Antigona, who has heard the news and hopes to marry Admeto, meets Trasimede, who recognises her, but she insists she is only a shepherdess. He engages her and Meraspe as gardeners.


Ercole rescues Alceste from the furies in hell. The portrait of Antigona, which Trasimede had thrown away, is brought to Admeto who admires its beauty but does not believe it to be Antigona, believing her to have died in Troy. He had been deceived by his brother who, entrusted with bringing Antigona from Troy, had fallen in love with her himself and given Admeto a false portrait.

Antigona still hopes to marry Admeto, but he is still distracted by grief at the loss of his wife. Alceste plans to return to the palace in disguise, to test her husband’s fidelity; Ercole will assist her by pretending to Admeto that his mission had been unsuccessful. Disguised as a soldier, Alceste overhears Antigona declaring her love for Admeto and her hopes of marrying him. She interrogates Antigona, who is evasive about her prospects of marrying Admeto.


Meraspe reveals Antigona’s true identity to Admeto. When Ercole reports on his purportedly unsuccessful rescue attempt, Admeto decides to marry Antigona.

Still disguised as a soldier, Alceste confronts Antigona and is arrested by a courtier. Ercole rescues her and tells her that Admeto is about to marry another woman.

As Admeto is about to take a new wife, the jealous Trasimede tries to kill his brother, who is saved by Alceste.

Admeto forgives Trasimede, who now hopes for Antigona, who has to yield her hopes of Admeto in favor of his restored wife.


George Frideric Handel - Non so se sia la speme, aria d'Arsamene (Serse/Xerxes). 1737-38

Paul Esswood, Countertenor

La Grande Ecurie et la Chambre du Roy Jean-Claude Malgoire, 1979


Io le dirò che l'amo from Handel’s Serse, sung by Anne Sofie von Otter and Lawrence Zazzo.