The Persian king Serse is betrothed to Amastre; yet on his adventurous military campaign to Greece, the conquests he seeks to make are above all amorous in nature. Serse’s brother Arsamene is conducting a secret liaison with Romilda, the daughter of his commander, Ariodate.
The king learns of this, immediately falls in love with her, and bids his brother of all people to act as Serse’s marriage broker. Arsamene resists, and Serse banishes him. Romilda’s sister Atalanta sees in this situation an opportunity to win Arsamene’s love for herself, and pressures Romilda into yielding to the king’s suit. Yet Romilda refuses, and Arsamene, who has gone into hiding, fights for his beloved with the assistance of his servant Elviro, whom he sends into the fray dressed as a female flower seller. For her part, Amastre disguises herself as a soldier in order to confound the wilful power games of the king, whom she desires despite his unfaithfulness. Letters are intercepted and sent to the wrong recipient; intrigues and confusions of love taken to extremes; suicides prevented; the pontoon bridge between Asia and Europe destroyed by a storm; many promises made; accusations levelled, and death sentences passed. Serse eventually falls into his own trap and sees himself forced to grant peace to the hearts of all.
... of the plotters
In 1738, the stages of London’s Italian opera – which not only mean the world, but also shape the world – are still dominated by castrati: the virtuoso male soprano is sovereign of the stage at the King’s Theatre. In his shadow stands his brother, who worships the primadonna of this overwrought theatre. And in the shadow of the primadonna stands her envious sister. Pure malevolence shapes this constellation of siblings at odds with one another. In the spaces behind and beside the stage of the baroque theatre boards, an endless variety of emotions are invoked and exhausted. The game of deception through disguise is played exhaustively, for it must be mastered by anyone desiring to be loved. On the threshold between the world of the theatre and the theatre of the world, all the participants thus come full circle in the sphere of creativity in order not to leave it bereft of its apparent meaning.