Admeto, Re di Tessaglia
, first performed on 31 January 1727, has some claim to be the greatest of the operas of this period. The libretto, ultimately based on Antonio Aureli’s L’Antigona delusa da Alceste
(Venice, 1660) is an elaboration of the classical legend best known from Euripides’ play Alcestis
. Admeto (Admetus), King of Thessaly, falls ill, and the oracle predicts that he will die unless another is prepared to die in his place. His wife Alceste undertakes to make this sacrifice. Admeto recovers, only to find that Alceste is dead, and is at first unaware of the connection between the two events. The hero Hercules, a visitor at Admeto’s court, on learning the truth, rescues Alceste from the underworld and restores her to Admeto. In the opera the situation is complicated by the presence of a second woman, the Trojan princess Antigona, who was once betrothed to Admeto (though the two had never met) and whom he abandoned in favour of Alceste. She sees the death of Alceste as an opportunity to win Admeto back. In Act II Alceste is brought back to life by Hercules, but in order to see whether Admeto remains faithful to her, she disguises herself as a soldier and tells Hercules to report that he was unable to find her in the underworld. There is a new twist to the story with the revelation that Admeto only rejected Antigona because his brother Trasimede, himself in love with Antigona, gave Admeto a false portrait of her. A page is sent to fetch the true portrait, but brings a picture of Admeto by mistake. He is ordered to take it back, but drops it. In the final scene of the act the picture is found by Antigona, who, overheard by the disguised Alceste, addresses it with a declaration of love. Both women have optimistic arias, but in contrasting styles reflecting their characters. An airy triple-time tune suggests the flighty Antigona, while Alceste’s loyalty and determination are indicated by solid counterpoint.
from notes by Anthony Hicks ę 1997