Pietro Metastasio was the most famous librettist of his age and is still regarded as the most important opera seria author today. His textbook for Artaserse was set more than forty times in the 18th century. Some estimates
put the number of settings and adaptations at as many as one hundred. It is probably one of the most successful libretti in the history of opera. Metastasio called it the happiest of all his children. The libretto was first set to music in 1730 by Leonardo Vinci in Rome. Since the murder of his father Serse, the young Artaserse has had to
fend for himself. The plots woven by Artabano, once his father’s adviser, plunge the young ruler into agonising moral dilemmas. In spite of his conflicting emotions, goodness helps Artaserse to attain the great virtues
of enlightened absolutism, entirely in keeping with the courtly regimes in Europe. Leonardo Vinci worked in Naples and Rome and was Metastasio’s most favoured composer, setting at least six of his dramas. The English music historian Charles Burney wrote of Vinci that he was the first composer to “show his reverence to poetry as a friend through his music” by simplifying the melody and removing exaggerated conceits from the vocal part. Artaserse was to remain Vinci’s last opera as he died in the spring of the year the work was premiered.