In quite characteristic fashion for the times, Handel’s opera “Alessandro” looks at various episodes in the life and rule of Alexander the Great (356 323 BC). This legendary warrior and military commanderconquered large parts of the world before meeting an untimely end at the age of 32. A central conflict in Handel’s opera is Alessandro being in love with two women, Lisaura and Rossane, who compete for his favour. Inaddition, his claim to be of divine parentage is underlined, occasioning him to demand the subservience of his followers, which meets with vigorous disapproval.
Handel composed “Alessandro” for the RoyalAcademyof Music to a libretto by Paolo Antonio Rolli in the 1725/26 season. The work was premiered at the King’s Theatre in London on 5 May 1726. “Alessandro” was the first of five operas for the Royal Academy,operas which saw Handel compose for three of the most famous singers of his time: Francesco Bernardi (called Senesino) Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni.
Ortensio Mauro’s libretto “La superbiad’Alessandro,” which was performed for the first time in Hanover in 1690 in a musical setting by Agostino Steffani and staged again in the city the following year under the title “Il zelo di Leonato” butwith numerous alterations, served as the source text for Handel’s “Alessandro”. One of the main aspects Rolli had to consider when preparing the libretto for the London performances was to keep the roles of thefamous singers of the Royal Academy well balanced, yet at the same time to engineer a musical contest between the prima donnas Cuzzoni and Bordoni (Lisaura and Rossane) as well. From a business point of view, it made good sense,for such rivalry would surely increase public interest in the opera.
It is no longer possible to ascertain which changes Handel made during the following performance series of the 1727/28 season. For the performance seriesof 1732/33, Handel made substantial revisions to the opera: six numbers were deleted in their entirety, the finale in part as well, and the recitatives were made much shorter, with the parts of Cleone and Leonato omitted