The libretto of Sosarme, Re di Media
(first performed at the King’s Theatre on 15 February 1732) was adapted from Antonio Salvi’s Dionisio, re di Portogallo
, and was originally set in Coimbra, Portugal. The title role was based on the Portuguese king Dionisio (‘Denis the Farmer’), who reigned from 1279 to 1325. While composing the opera Handel changed the location to Sardis in ancient Lydia, and the characters were given fictional names, Dionisio becoming King Haliate of Lydia. This was presumably to avoid any possible offence to the royal family of Portugal, a long-standing ally of Britain, especially as the story of the opera involves a family feud. Haliate and his son Argone are at odds because Argone has been misled into thinking that Haliate intends to make his illegitimate son Melo his heir. Haliate’s wife Erenice, and her daughter Elmira (who is engaged to Sosarme, king of Media) are greatly distressed by the quarrel, and their anxiety has been increased by a dream in which Erenice has been told that reconciliation will come only ‘with royal blood shed by a son’. In Act 1 Erenice and Elmira fail to persuade Argone from leading an attack on his father, and Elmira ends the act with a reflection on the divine promise of peace to be achieved only at the cost of bloodshed. The contrast of calm and agitation is depicted in the music.
In Act 2 the situation is made worse by the plotting of Haliate’s treacherous counsellor Altomaro. He wants Melo to become heir because Melo’s mother was Altomaro’s daughter, but Melo himself is entirely honourable and will not be party to the plan. Altomaro leads Haliate and Argone to believe that each has challenged the other to single combat, reinforcing the hatred between father and son. In Act 3 Melo and Erenice discover Altomaro’s deceit and resolve to put matters right. Meanwhile Elmira again tries to appeal to Argone’s better nature and is again rebuffed. She decides to prevent the duel, but is uncertain whether she can achieve a reconciliation; her aria expresses her hopes and fears.
from notes by Anthony Hicks © 2000