Who will marry whom? is the potentially explosive question in this opera.
Queen Berenice of Egypt is set to marry Prince Alessandro in order
to guarantee peace with Rome. But she favours Demetrio, although he
is in love with Berenice’s sister Selene. As for Selene, she accidentally
agrees to a match with Arsace. In the meantime, the noble Alessandro
is filled with sorrow because he genuinely loves Berenice... It requires
three acts and many outpourings of deep emotion before the right
couples – in other words, those who are emotionally and politically suited
to each other – are officially united. All the deluding passions must first
be overcome so that those who rule can continue to do so in dignity
and peace. Berenice was written at a time when London opera-goers
had lost interest in Italian opera once and for all. Händel’s financial crisis
was followed by a personal one: around the time of the premiere of
Berenice he was afflicted by a mysterious paralysis. Once he was well again
he concentrated on English-language oratorios. Berenice is, so to speak,
the glorious quintessence of all his experience in the field of opera seria.