The last new opera to be produced by the Royal Academy of Music, Tolomeo, Re di Egitto
, seems to reflect the company’s need for financial caution: it requires only five singers, and the mainly pastoral setting meant that the scenery could mostly be drawn from stock. Haym adapted the libretto from Carlo Sigismondo Capece’s Tolomeo et Alessandro
, set by Domenico Scarlatti for Rome in 1711. As in Riccardo primo
, the action is set in Cyprus, though over a thousand years earlier in time. Tolomeo (Ptolemy), the rightful heir to the Egyptian throne, has been exiled to Cyprus by his mother and (so he believes) his younger brother Alessandro (Alexander). He has taken the disguise of a shepherd, Osmin. His wife Seleuce has also come to the island in search of her husband and is disguised as the shepherdess Delia. She receives unwelcome attentions from Araspe, the ruler of Cyprus, while Araspe’s sister, Elisa, is in love with Tolomeo. Act I begins with the arrival of Alessandro on the island as the result of a shipwreck. He soon falls in love with Elisa. When Seleuce first appears, she has not yet found Tolomeo, and in a style similar to Rossane’s aria ‘Aure, fonti’ in Alessandro (though now for Cuzzoni, not Faustina) she plaintively asks for guidance from the breezes and springs. Recorders share the accompaniment with the strings.
The conflicts come to a head in Act III when Tolomeo and Seleuce, their identities revealed, are captured by Araspe. Elisa tries to persuade Seleuce to save Tolomeo’s life by giving him up to her. Seleuce reluctantly agrees, but Tolomeo, considering his life worthless without Seleuce, refuses to agree, and Elisa angrily threatens both him and Seleuce with death.
There is, of course a happy ending. Alessandro, never in fact his brother’s enemy, rescues Seleuce from Araspe’s clutches. Tolomeo drinks a cup of poison sent him by Elisa, but it turns out only to have been a sleeping draught which Elisa substituted in remorse when she believed Seleuce to have been killed. Tolomeo prepares to return to Egypt as rightful king, accompanied by Alessandro and Seleuce. The fate of Elisa and Araspe is left unclear.
from notes by Anthony Hicks © 1997