Xavier Sabata 1280x680 © Beetroot Design Group

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The classic conflict: A general — the Roman Scipione — falls in love with his beautiful prisoner Berenice who, however, has already lost her heart to a prince, Lucejo. In the end, the existing love is respected and the compassionate general is praised by all. With the soprano Francesca Cuzzoni and the mezzo-soprano Senesino (Francesco Bernardi) in the roles of Berenice and Lucejo respectively, a veritable dream-team appeared on Handel’s stage in 1726. Despite this, this dramma per musica started life as a stopgap because the late arrival of the highly acclaimed mezzo-soprano Faustina Bordoni meant that Handel was unable to present his Alessandro as planned. He hurriedly commissioned the librettist Paolo Antonio Rolli, who adapted an existing libretto by Antonio Salvi. Handel supposedly wrote the music in only three weeks although — ever the pragmatist — he borrowed many of the numbers from earlier compositions. He was finished ten days before the premiere on 12 March. Publio Cornelio Scipione was given a mixed reception, the English music historian Charles Burney writing, “though the first act of this opera is rather feeble, and the last not so excellent as that of some of his other dramas, the second act contains beauties of various kinds sufficient to establish its reputation, as a work worthy of its great author in his meridian splendour.”