Tolomeo, rightful king of Egypt, has been deposed by his own mother.
She has installed her younger son and favourite Alessandro as ruler
and abducted Seleuce, Tolomeo’s beloved wife. Tolomeo goes to the seashore
intending to drown himself in despair, but sees the shipwrecked
Alessandro being washed ashore. Tolomeo saves his unconscious brother
from the waves. Seleuce has also come to the island, where, disguised
as a shepherdhess, she mourns the husband she believes dead. In
addition to this she has to ward off the advances of the brutish Cypriot
king, Araspe. When Alessandro falls in love with Araspe’s sister Elisa,
who, however, has set her cap at a shepherd named Osmino who in
reality is none other than Tolomeo in disguise, an emotional tangle is
created with potentially dangerous political dimensions that is ideally
suited as the basis of a turbulent Händel opera seria – for which the
composer created one of the most sophisticated suicide scenes in the
history of opera as the musical high point.