As the symbol of a triumphant monarchy, Versailles was both an artistic and political hub. Faithful to its history, the Opéra Royal de Versailles continues to be the setting for a variety of cultural events. In 2013, leading international artists staged Handel’s ALESSANDRO.
Noone embodies the idea of the youthful leader better than Alexander the Great. Idealised by kings and conquerors such as Julius Ceasar, Louis XIV and Napoleon, Alexander’s conquests in Persia, Egypt and India have been retold numerous times in the Bible, the Qu’ran, in medieval romances, plays and novels.
Georg Frideric Handel’s opera ALESSANDRO was a resounding success at the time of its premiere in 1726 at King's Theatre in London. The plot is set approximately in 326 BC in India, where a battle is in progress and Alessandro’s army are besieging the city of Oxidraca. Despite the many victories he has won elsewhere, the city's defenders get the best of his army and he is in personal danger when rescued by his general Cleto (Cleitus), Prince of Macedonia. Two princesses, both in love with Alessandro, are much concerned for his safety, Lisaura, princess of Scythia, and Rossane (Roxana), taken captive by Alessandro in his previous campaign in Persia. The rival princesses are tormented by jealousy for the king, who seems unable to make up his mind about which of them he prefers. Alessandro’s fame as an invicible world conqueror has gone to his head. He allows himself to be worshipped in Jupiter’s temple as the son of the divine father. The only one who dares stand up to him is the upright Cleto. General Leonato and his friends are appalled at Alexander’s inordinate arrogance. They resolve to conspire against the king.
The opera needs three great singers to make it work: Alessandro himself has eight arias and the two women have about an equal number of arias, plus a duet. In the premiere in 1726 the two female roles were sung by Francesca Cuzzoni (Lisaura) and Faustina Bordoni (Rossane) who are remembered by the press of the time as friends and enemies in real life as well as on stage.