Handel’s opera Sosarme of 1732 will be performed at the Handel Festival in Halle for the first time using the Halle Handel Edition.
Handel’s opera Sosarme, Re di Media HWV 30 was performed for the first time on 15 February 1732 at the King’s Theatre Haymarket in London. The successful premiere was followed in February 1732 by four more performances and in March by six, then a revival on 27 April 1734 with further performances on the 30th of that month and 4 May. According to Charles Burney, the opera was amongst Handel’s most attractive theatre productions.
When Handel embarked in December 1731 on the composition of a second new opera after Ezio HWV 29 for the winter season, he initially wanted to retain the geographical and historic setting of the original libretto Dionisio, Re di Portogallo (Florence 1707, Antonio Salvi, first setting by Giacomo Antonio Perti). Under the title Fernando, Re di Castiglia Handel began to set a story here about a struggle for power between a King (Dionisio) and his son (Alfonso), in which King of Castile (the “Infante di Castiglia” in the original libretto) Fernando intervenes. The plot is set in the former Portuguese capital of Coimbra and its surroundings and, because of the mingling of historic and fictional events and people, can only roughly be dated to the period around 1300.
As a result, Fernando, Re di Castiglia has the most “modern” subject of all Handel’s operas after Tamerlano HWV 18. This modernity is manifest in the portrayal of a father-son conflict amongst the ruling classes, with parallels to the English situation at the period when the opera was written; the setting in Portugal, a traditional ally of England, and the resolution of the conflict by the intervention of a ruler equally traditionally at odds with Spain along with England and Portugal. These were the elements which would have moved Handel and his unknown librettist in the midst of the compositional process to transfer the plot to an innocuous oriental location, including changing the names of almost all the cast. And so the opera was composed as Fernando, Re di Castiglia until shortly before the end of the second act, but then completed as Sosarme, Re di Media. Handel made further alterations for the performances of Sosarme in 1734.
About the plot: Sosarme, King of Media, is in love with Elmira, the daughter of Haliate, the King of Lydia, and his consort Erenice. Haliate and Elmira also have a son together, Argone, who regards himself as the rightful heir to the throne. Haliate has another son, Melo, from an earlier relationship with Anagilda, whom he would much rather see on the throne of Lydia. However, Melo refuses to accept the throne. Haliate is supported by his counsellor Altomaro, Anagilda’s father. Argone rebels against this plan, barricades himself with his followers in the capital Sardi and refuses his father access. Elmira and Erenice are also there in the palace. Haliate (with Melo and Altomaro) besiege the city. When the rebels run out of supplies, Argone calls for battle. Sosarme, who had left Media some time before with his army in order to fetch his bride, happens upon this and attempts to mediate between the parties. He is injured in the fight and taken prisoner by the victorious Argone. Thereupon Haliate sends Altomaro as a messenger to offer Argone peace. But Altomaro turns out to be a lying traitor. He brings the offer of peace for the city and combines it with the message devised by him that Haliate wants to save the people and to resolve the dispute in a duel with his son. Argone cannot turn down the challenge. Altomaro returns to Haliate with the news that his consort had led Argone to challenge him. In conversation with Erenice and Melo Altomaro’s deception becomes evident. But Haliate does not know the truth, and the duel begins. Erenice and Melo interfere and both are injured. The fighters stop, and Haliate learns of the intrigue. Altomaro flees and at the river, plunges the sword into his chest. The parties are reconciled and forgive each other.
Because of the wealth of material and for ease of handling, the HHA volume II/27 is published in two parts. The content of the main part is the version of Sosarme from the first performance. Appendix I, which begins with the second part, contains the operatic fragment Fernando, and Appendix II contains the only early version of an aria which cannot be assigned to Fernando, whilst the alterations to Sosarme for 1734 are contained in Appendix III.
HHA editorial staff
(translation: Elizabeth Robinson)
(from [t]akte 1/2016)