|George Frideric Handel|
Tolomeo, re d'Egitto (Ptolemy, King of Egypt; HWV 25) is an opera in three acts by George Frideric Handel to an Italian text by Nicola Francesco Haym, adapted from Carlo Sigismondo Capece's Tolomeo et Alessandro.
It was Handel's 13th and last opera for the Royal Academy of Music (1719). It was first performed at the King's Theatre, London on 30 April 1728 and revived with revisions on 19 May 1730 and 2 January 1733.
The first production with period instruments seems to have been the 1996 production, with performances and a CD recording, at the Handel Festival in Halle with the Händelfestspielorchester des Opernhauses Halle, conducted by Howard Arman.
2006 saw a new production in modern dress with English Touring Opera directed by James Conway at the London Handel Festival and then on tour, from which some gripping video extracts have been published.
Glimmerglass Opera presented the first American professionally staged production during its 2010 season, while a concert version is announced with Il complesso barocco under Alan Curtis for November 2010 at the Theater an der Wien, Vienna.
The aria Non lo dirò col labbro was adapted by Arthur Somervell (1863–1937) as the popular classic 'Silent Worship', 1928; its use in the 1996 film of Jane Austen's Emma may effectively capture an atmosphere of home entertainment, although this English drawing-room version of the song was created more than a century after the action of Jane Austen's novel.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast, 30 April 1728
(Conductor: - )
|Tolomeo, former ruler of Egypt||alto castrato||Senesino|
|Seleuce, wife of Tolomeo||soprano||Francesca Cuzzoni|
|Elisa, sister of Araspe||soprano||Faustina Bordoni|
|Alessandro, brother of Tolomeo||alto castrato||Antonio Baldi|
|Araspe, King of Cyprus||bass||Giuseppe Maria Boschi|
- Place: Cyprus
- Time: around 108 BC,
The action takes place at the time of Ptolemy IX (Tolomeo), who was deposed by his mother and joint ruler of Egypt Cleopatra III in favour of his younger brother Ptolemy X (Alessandro). Its themes include revenge, lust, lost love, devotion, and eventually, reconciliation.
The action opens with Tolomeo on the beach of Cyprus, where he meets his shipwrecked brother, Alessandro. Alessandro has come under orders from Cleopatra to kill his own flesh and blood. Tolomeo becomes aware of Alessandro's identity and is tempted to kill him, but can't bring himself to do so. Tolomeo (going under the name of Osmin to protect himself from the wrath of King Araspe, an ally of Cleopatra) hides, and Elisa, sister of the king, turns up. Alessandro wakes, thinks she is like a goddess, and declares his love for her. She, however, loves "Osmin." She is very flirtatious. But as she and "Osmin" talk, it becomes clear that her feelings are not requited, that Tolomeo loves another (Seleuce, his wife, who he thinks is lost). Alone, he considers taking his own life.
We are then introduced to Seleuce who is also going under an alias, "Delia." She sings of her dispossession, then sees Tolomeo on the shore, but she runs away when Araspe arrives. Araspe is furious at Seleuce, whom he pursues with amorous intent. Act One closes with Tolomeo visualising his wife, wishing that she could appear before him and ease his pain.
Tolomeo loses his temper and declares to Elisa that he is not "Osmin" but is indeed the deposed joint ruler of Egypt. Elisa tells the resentful Araspe to bring "Delia" before them. This is done and Tolomeo rapturously declares his love to Seleuce. She, in order to protect Tolomeo pretends she doesn't know what he is talking about, while in typical operatic fashion voicing her inner thoughts in parenthesis; how this deception is painful to her and she longs for her husband.
Tolomeo reiterates that he cannot love Elisa and she rages at this. Tolomeo leaves and Alessandro enters, reiterating his love for Elisa. Elisa claims that the only way she can love him in return is if he murders his brother. Seleuce sings another lament and Tolomeo echoes her words in the background. Araspe bursts onto the scene and tries to rape Seleuce. Tolomeo can't bear the sight and rushes to defend his wife. He reveals their true identities, and Araspe (the baritone) sings ruggedly of how he will punish the lovers. The couple are left alone at the end of act two and touchingly sing synchronised for the first time of how their love for one another will doom them both.
Alessandro has a letter positing the death of Cleopatra. He says she has paid the price for her cruelty. Somehow Araspe interprets Alessandro saying he wants to go home to Egypt with Tolomeo as meaning he wants his brother slain, but wants someone else to do it. Araspe, of course, thinks himself the very man for the job and delights in avenging the jealousy he feels.
Elisa forces Seleuce to cede Tolomeo to her, saying he'll die otherwise. Tolomeo rejects Elisa once more. She says if he is so brave and intent on rejecting her, then he should drink some poison. This he does. He describes the effect the poison is having, and then, apparently, dies. Alessandro comes to the desperate Seleuce in the remotest part of the wood and promises to reunite her with Tolomeo. Araspe triumphanly reveals the body of Tolomeo to Alessandro. He is sure that Seleuce is his but Elisa reveals the potion was actually a sleeping draught and she will torture Seleuce and put her to death. At this point Tolomeo wakes up and Alessandro presents Seleuce to him. Husband and wife are reunited and Alessandro declares Tolomeo as Egypt's rightful ruler. The opera ends with a joyous quartet expounding that when suffering turns into joy, all can be forgiven.
- Cover view of recording
- Robert Hugill, "Simple But Effective", review of the production on Music & Vision (mvdaily.com), 20 May 2006 Retrieved 1 September 2010
- English Touring Opera's website with details of the production Retrieved 1 September 2010
- Details of the recording on deutschegrammophon.com Retrieved 1 September 2010
- Synopsis and history of the opera on handelhouse.org Retrieved 1 September 2010
- Counter tenor Iestyn Davies's schedule from iestyndavies.com Retrieved 1 September 2010
- Dean, Winton (2006), Handel's Operas, 1726-1741, Boydell Press, ISBN 1-84383-268-2 The second of the two volume definitive reference on the operas of Handel
- Ograjenšek, Suzana, Handel’s opera Tolomeo: a study of its genesis and performances during the composer’s lifetime, MPhil dissertation, Cambridge, 2000
- Ograjenšek, Suzana, From Alessandro (1726) to Tolomeo (1728): the final Royal Academy operas, PhD dissertation, Cambridge, 2006
- Thesis topics list from history-on-line Retrieved 1 September 2010