Handel set only three opera librettos by Metastasio, the poet and amateur musician who came to be regarded as the greatest, or at any rate the most influential, author of operatic texts in the eighteenth century. Siroe, Re di Persia
was the first, the others being Ezio
. Handel completed the score of Siroe
on 5 February 1728 and the opera was first performed twelve days later. The action begins in a manner faintly resembling King Lear, with the old king of Persia, Cosroe, favouring his villainous younger son Mendarse as his successor instead of his honourable elder son Siroe. The latter has annoyed the king by falling in love with the princess Emira, daughter of the king’s enemy Asbite, whom Cosroe has killed. To avenge her father Emira has joined Cosroe’s court disguised as a man with the name Idaspe (Hydaspes), her true identity being known only to Siroe. Also at court is a second woman, Laodice, the sister of the commander of Cosroe’s army. She loves Siroe but is pursued by Cosroe. Emira is constantly torn between taking revenge on Cosroe and ensuring justice for Siroe, whose love she returns. In Act 2 Siroe is falsely accused of seducing Laodice and attempting to murder the disguised Emira. Cosroe promises to give him Laodice and pardon him if he confesses. Siroe avoids answering by putting his fate in Emira’s hands: he will abide by whatever she decides. In the final scene of the act Emira tries to escape the dilemma—either Siroe dies or he has to marry Laodice—by pretending to be in love with Laodice. Laodice, however, refuses to give up Siroe, and instead asks Emira to use the authority she has been given to make Siroe accept her. Emira’s refusal incurs Laodice’s anger, expressed in a vigorous aria, and Emira is left to end the Act with a more serene aria contrasting the simplicity of pastoral life with the responsibilities of royalty.
from notes by Anthony Hicks © 1997