RADAMISTO (HWV 12b)
Libretto: Nicola Haym
First performance: 28th December 1720, King's Theatre, London
- Francesco Bernardi, known as Senesino (Alto castrato)
- Margherita Durastanti (Soprano)
- Maddalena Salvai (Soprano)
- Caterina Galerati (Soprano)
- Matteo Berselli (Soprano castrato)
- Giuseppe Boschi (Bass)
- Lagarde (Bass)
Scenes 1-3, A royal tent
Polissena, Tiridate’s wife and Radamisto’s sister, asks the gods for protection in her unhappiness. Tigrane, Tiridate’s ally, and Fraarte, one of his commanders, warn her of her husband’s infidelity; he is besieging the city in order to seize Radamisto’s wife Zenobia, for whom he has a great passion. First Fraarte then Tigrane urge her to forget Tiridate and respond to Tigrane’s love for her. Tiridate orders the city to be assaulted, and dismisses Polissena; she leaves reluctantly. Farasmane, father of Radamisto and Polissena, is brought in in chains, and is threatened by Tiridate.
Scenes 4-8. Tiridate’s camp near the city, with the river Araxes in between.
Radamisto and Zenobia emerge from the city; he tries to console her with the thought that their misfortune may eventually come to an end. Tiridate threatens that Farasmane will die if Radamisto does not surrender the city; Zenobia offers herself as a sacrifice, to make peace between them. Radamisto curses Tiridate, and Farasmane is defiant: he would rather die than see Radamisto surrender. Tiridate’s army attacks the city.
Scenes 9-11. A courtyard in front of Radamisto’s palace.
Tiridate enters in triumph, but Radamisto and Zenobia have escaped, and Farasmane is to remain as a hostage. Polissena objects to Tiridate’s behavior, but is told to be silent. Tigrane assures her of his love, and she can only hope for a happy outcome.
Scenes 1-3. Countryside with the river Araxes running through it.
Radamisto and Zenobia are escaping. She is exhausted, and asks cruel fate when her suffering will cease; she begs Radamisto to kill her so that she will not fall into Tiridate’s hands. He is reluctant, and fails to strike an effective blow, so she throws herself into the river.
Tigrane and his soldiers capture Radamisto. Tigrane is sympathetic and offers to take him to Polissena. Radamisto thinks of Zenobia, whom he believes drowned, and begs her shade to rest in peace and await his coming.
However Zenobia has been rescued by Fraarte; he bids her to have hope, but she calls on the Furies to destroy Tiridate.
Scenes 4-8. Part of a garden, with a view of the royal palace.
Fraarte tells Tiridate of Zenobia’s rescue, and she is brought in. She resists him, but she says she will relent when she knows the extent of his love. She begs Heaven to tell her where Radamisto is.
Tigrane brings Radamisto to Polissena, and promises that all will be well. Radamisto tells Polissena that she must lead him to Tiridate, so that he can kill him; she refuses, because she still loves her husband, and this makes Radamisto angry. Polissena, left alone, declares that she will defend whichever of the two men is in greater danger.
Scenes 9-11. A royal apartment.
Zenobia appeals to the gods to bring her either Radamisto or death. Tigrane tells Tiridate and Zenobia that Radamisto is dead, and brings him in in disguise; Radamisto pretends to be his servant Ismeno, and relates his supposed dying words. Zenobia recognizes his voice, but Tiridate is deceived and entrusts her to the care of “Ismeno”. Radamisto and Zenobia sing of their love and constancy in a duet.
Scenes 1-2. A courtyard around the royal palace.
Tigrane and Fraarte agree to force Tiridate to abandon his tyrannical ways; Tigrane declares that he would risk his life for Polissena.
Scenes 3-7. A royal apartment with a closet.
Zenobia is afraid that Radamisto will be discovered; he promises to be careful, and that he will never abandon her. Tiridate arrives and Radamisto conceals himself; Tiridate tries to force his attentions on Zenobia, but is prevented by the arrival of Radamisto, Polissena and Farasmane. Radamisto’s identity is accidentally revealed (by Farasmane), and he is condemned to death by Tiridate. He defies the tyrant, and Polissena pleads for his life, but she is dismissed by Tiridate; she leaves, threatening that her love will turn to hatred. Tiridate is willing to spare Radamisto, on condition that Zenobia becomes his wife; he boasts of fulfilling his hopes. Radamisto and Zenobia bid each other a sad farewell.
Scenes 8-11. A temple.
Tiridate is triumphant: he will marry Zenobia in spite of her protests; but Polissena brings the news that the army and the populace have rebelled, and the temple is surrounded. In a quartet, Radamisto, Zenobia and Polissena urge Tiridate to yield “to love, to honor, to virtue,” but he refuses. Tigrane and Fraarte burst in with soldiers and a crowd of townspeople; Tiridate is forced to yield and to acknowledge his wickedness. The others forgive him and agree to restore him and Polissena to their throne; Zenobia and Radamisto celebrate in a duet, and all rejoice in a final Chorus.
Terence Best (c) harmonia mundi usa
Radamisto was the first opera Handel wrote for the newly formed Royal Academy of Music, London’s first resident opera company established by a group of English noblemen to present Italian operas in London. In November 1719 he had been appointed ‘master of the Orchestra with a salary’ for the new company, and immediately set about preparing a new work to open the first season. However, that honour fell to Giovanni Porta’s Numitore on 2nd April 1720. It is possible that Handel held back the opening of Radamisto to mark an important social occassion – the reconciliation of King George I to his son, the Prince of Wales. The two had not spoken for nearly three years – an estrangement that ended on 23rd April 1720. The performance of Radamisto four days later marked their first appearance in public together.
The role of Radamisto was created by the soprano Margherita Durastanti, who had worked with Handel in Italy and had been his original Agrippina in 1709. The opera was an immediate success, and Handel’s first biographer John Mainwaring noted: ‘Many (ladies), who had forc’d their way into the house with an impetuosity ill suited to their rank and sex, actually fainted through the excessive heat and closeness of it. Several gentlemen were turned back, who had offered forty shillings for a seat in the gallery, after having despaired of getting any in the pit or boxes’.
Handel revived and considerably re-wrote the opera in December 1720, creating ten new arias, a duet and a quartet, and unusually this second version is felt by many to be superior to the first. The main inspiration for the reworking was the arrival in London of the star castrato Francesco Bernardi, known as Senesino, who was to become the Academy’s house castrato for the next seven years creating many new roles for Handel. It was rumoured that he was paid as much as £2,000 for his first season. Durastanti stepped down from the ‘male’ lead into the role of his wife, Zenobia. She too was to be a loyal Handel supporter, and in the following year as a mark of her status the King himself stood as godfather to her newly born daughter.