In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Alexander the Great was a popular character in opera. His successes as a king and military commander were compared to those of current rulers and his love life was an inspiration for amorous adventures. Handel’s Alessandro is an account of how love and politics collide. Alexander, the King of Macedon, is initially portrayed as an intrepid soldier and power-conscious ruler. But he is caught between two women. He loves Roxane and, for strategic reasons, pretends to love Lisaura, a Scythian princess.
The cast of singers for Alessandro included some of the leading lights of the age: the castrato Senesino sang the title role while the two most famous female singers of the day competed for Alexander’s affections: Francesca Cuzzoni was already a permanent member of Handel’s first opera academy and sang the part of Lisaura, while Faustina Bordoni made her London debut as Roxane. However, the great success of Alessandro could not hide the fact that the high fees commanded by the three singers would, in the long term, be beyond the means of Handel’s first opera academy which was consequently closed down two years later, in 1728.