Opera Holland Park (OHP) is set to host a new semi-staged version of Handel’s Serse (1738) by historical performance ensemble Figure.

Established in 2021, Figure aims to expand the scope and practices of historical performance beyond the typical Baroque and renaissance repertoire. The group uses space and light to bring audiences as close to the music as possible, while staying faithful to the approach and style of the era in which the work was originally conceived.

Handel’s opera is set in Persia, the story is loosely based on Xerxes I of Persia – the Serse of the title. The Italian libretto was anonymously adapted from one by Silvio Stampiglia for an earlier work of the same name by Giovanni Bononcini in 1694.

It tells the story of King Serse, who is in love with Romilda, the beloved of the king’s brother Arsamene. To complicate matters, Romilda’s sister Atalanta is also in love with Arsamene, while Serse is betrothed to Amastre, the princess of a neighbouring kingdom. Serse tries to use his authority to force Romilda to marry him in this exploration of power, desire and human frailty.

Handel’s stunning score will be brought to life by a dramatic physical theatre ensemble directed by movement specialist Sam Rayner. Renowned American mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall sings the title role, with British soprano Sarah Tynan taking on the part of Romilda.

British countertenor James Laing is Arsamene and British-Hungarian soprano Anna Cavaliero sings the role of Atalanta. English baritone Timothy Nelson is Arsamene’s buffoonish servant Elviro.

Musical direction comes from Figure’s founder Frederick Waxman. “This is a fantastic opportunity for Figure and an incredible achievement within our first year of activity,” he commented.

“Opera Holland Park has a reputation for supporting young talent and we are thrilled to be performing with them. Serse is one of Handel’s greatest works and where better to present it than here, surrounded by Holland Park’s plane trees, the subject of his beautiful and opera-defining aria ‘Ombra mai fu’.”

Serse’s heartfelt aria ‘Ombra mai fu’ (‘There was never a shadow’) – one of Handel’s most famous pieces – offers loving thanks to a plane tree for shading him from the sun. In honour of this, Figure will be joining forces with The Conservation Foundation on their Heritage Tree Campaign.

Having planted a large number of trees over its 40 years, the organisation is now centralising its fundraising to spread support across all urban flora to promote, encourage and celebrate tree interests rather than just planting trees.

This one-off historically informed performance of Serse takes place at 8pm on 30 June at Opera Holland Park Theatre, Ilchester Place in London. The performance will last approximately 2 hours, including an interval. Tickets are on sale now and cost from £20-50.



Figure, a historically informed ensemble which formed in 2021, will perform a new version of Handel’s Serse at Opera Holland Park this month.