, the first of Handel’s Italian operas, was presented at the Cocomero Theatre in Florence in November 1707 under the title Vincer se stesso è la maggior vittoria
(‘Self-conquest is the greatest victory’). The shorter title (used by Handel’s early biographers) is more commonly used, however, not only for convenience but also as a reminder that the opera has come down to us only in the draft version of Handel’s autograph (apart from the start of Act 1, which is lost), not in the revised version actually performed. Francesco Silvani’s libretto is a serious and often powerful drama based vaguely on events in Spain around ad710. Rodrigo, the last of the Visigothic kings, is portrayed as a dissolute tyrant whose seduction of a young noblewoman under a false promise of marriage stirs up a rebellion and leads to his downfall. His long-suffering wife, Esilena, remains touchingly loyal to him throughout, eventually saving his life and following him into a humble exile. At the start of Act 3 the couple are in a temple in Seville, fearfully awaiting the arrival of the rebel forces. In the aria ‘Perché viva il caro sposo’ Esilena prays fervently to the gods that she may be sacrificed to spare her husband. The introductory recitative illustrates the lofty rhetorical style of the libretto, which even the original singers seem to have found excessive: in the performing version the section from ‘e se, perché egli è tardo …’ to ‘… sarà dell’ are vostre’ was cut.
from notes by Anthony Hicks © 1996