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Xerse is an opera by Francesco Cavalli (specifically, a dramma per musica) about Xerxes I. The libretto was written by Nicolò Minato, and was later set by both Giovanni Bononcini and George Frideric Handel. Minato's plot outline is loosely based on Book 7 of Herodotus's Histories. The opera, consisting of a prologue and three acts, was first performed at Venice on 12 January 1654, at the Teatro SS. Giovanni e Paolo.

The opera was highly popular in Italy, not least due to Cavalli's setting of "Ombra mai fu" (later more famously set by Handel): 9 different revivals were given across Italy while Cavalli lived. In 1660 Cavalli was persuaded to travel to France to produce a new opera for the wedding of Louis XIV in Paris. He soon became entangled in court intrigue which ensured that the projected opera, Ercole amante, was not ready in time and had to be replaced by a revival of Xerse at the last minute. Xerse was given with ballets by Cavalli's rival Jean-Baptiste Lully, a Florentine who had become the official court composer in France. The whole spectacle lasted eight or nine hours and the French audience had little appreciation for an opera in a foreign language, preferring Lully's dance music.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, January, 12 January 1654
(Conductor: - )
Xerse contralto
Arsamene contralto
Romilda soprano
Ariodate tenor
Amastre soprano
Elviro contralto
Adelanta soprano
Eumene soprano
Aristone bass
Periarco contralto
Clito soprano
Sesostre tenor
Spitalce bass
Capitano bass
Momo backing singer
Apollo backing singer



  • Clinkscale, Martha Novak. "Xerse (i)". Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press.
  • Notes accompanying the Jacobs recording.

External links

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