Xerxes (Serse) - Synopsis
Unknown librettist based on libretti by Silvio Stampiglia and Nicolò Count Minato
Serse, King of Persia and a tyrant, is in love with a plane tree. He lounges in his garden and declares his love. His brother, Arsamene, accompanied by his bodyguard, Elviro, arrives to find his beloved Romilda. They hear her singing about love and using as an example the King's love for a tree. Serse suddenly sees Romilda and instantly falls in love – he finds out from Arsamene who the singer is and orders him to help arrange the marriage. His brother stalls for time so Serse decides to go to her and declare himself.
Arsamene finds Romilda first and warns her of Serses plan but Romilda vows she will be constant. Romilda's sister Atalanta summons up the courage to declare her love for Arsamene, but they ignore her.
Serse arrives and asks Romilda to share his throne – Arsamene interrupts and is immediately banished. Romilda vows to be true to Arsamene, much to Serses annoyance.
Amastre, a foreign princess engaged to Serse, arrives on the scene, disguises herself as a soldier and hides. Ariodate, Serses general and father of the two sisters, celebrates a victorious battle campaign. Serse promises him, as reward, that Romilda will marry a prince "equal to Serse and of Serses line." Amastre overhears Serse wondering about his new love and nearly reveals herself. Serse is left alone and ponders on the new "flames of love" in his heart.
- Arsamene, now in exile, orders Elviro to take a letter to Romilda, asking for a meeting in secret.
- Amastre swears revenge on Serse.
- Atalanta tries to persuade Romilda to accept Serse. But Romilda sees through her plan and tells Atalanta to change her desires.
- Atalanta determines to get her man by exploiting her "certain charms".
In a street, Elviro is now disguised as a flower-lady in order to smuggle his master’s letter to Romilda. He runs into Amastre and blurts out the full story of the Serse-Romilda-Arsamene love triangle. Amastre finally abandons all hope.
The lovesick Atalanta tricks Elviro into letting her deliver Arsamenes letter to her sister; and tells him that Romilda has finally given in to Serse. When Serse sees her reading the letter, she claims that it is to her and that Arsamene is only pretending to love Romilda. Serse is thrilled and gives his blessing to her marriage with Arsamene.
Serse goes to Romilda’s house and triumphantly shows her the letter. Confused, Romilda still vows to be true to Arsamene. Serse says that, if that is the case, he rejects her but that he doesn't know how to and storms off. Romilda questions whether there can ever be love without jealousy.
Elviro prevents Amastre from killing herself – and then upsets Arsamene still further by telling him that Romilda now loves Serse.
Everyone gathers to celebrate the famous Bridge of Boats that Serse has built in order to lead his warring army across the water from Asia to Greece. Arsamene, now also driven to the point of suicide, is interrupted by Serse who tells him that he can have his girl – Arsamene is briefly overjoyed before the misunderstanding is revealed and he swears revenge on Serse. Serse in turn tells Atalanta that Arsamene loves Romilda and not her – but she says that she can do nothing about the way she feels. Elviro, now drunk and looking for his master, sees the Bridge collapsing in the storm.
Serse and Amastre both separately complain about the state they're in. Amastre nearly gives herself away again but quickly covers up and hides herself.
Serse tries a second time to tempt Romilda. She maintains her integrity and won't be moved. Amastre bursts in on the scene to try and save Romilda – Serse has Amastre arrested and leaves. Romilda has "him" released.
Romilda, left isolated, swears yet again that she will remain true to Arsamene.
Arsamene and Romilda both confront Atalanta who worms her way out of the situation. The lovers are re-united and Atalanta goes off to try and find someone else.
Serse tries for a third time to tempt Romilda. She plays for time and agrees to marriage but only if her father approves. Serse is delighted, saying that he's going now – but that he'll be back! Arsamene, having overheard all this, confronts Romilda who tries in vain to protest her innocence. Arsamene is left alone, heart-broken.
Deep in the woods, Serse promises Ariodate that, with his approval, Romilda shall have "a royal husband" who will come to his house. Assuming he means Arsamene, Ariodate is overjoyed. Romilda is determined to refuse Serse and, when she meets him, elaborates on her relationship with Arsamene. Serse is furious and commands that Arsamene be killed. Romilda asks Amastre to go and warn Arsamene. In return, Amastre asks Romilda to deliver a letter from her to Serse – she still loves Serse even though he has behaved treacherously to her.
Romilda tries to warn Arsamene of the death-threat but he mistrusts her and they quarrel furiously while walking back to the city.
Wedding preparations are now in full swing! Ariodate announces the bridegroom – and Arsamene and Romilda enter, still quarrelling. He tells them that Serse has commanded that they be married. This they do and everyone goes off to celebrate. Serse decides to reveal the true identitiy of the "Royal Husband" – when Ariodate reveals that Romilda has just been married to her "Royal Husband" and who it is.
A letter is delivered to Serse – he assumes it is from Romilda but suddenly discovers the signature to belong to Amastre. Serse is now deeply disturbed and calls upon the Furies to spit venom on him.
Everyone comes in and tries to calm Serse down, but he orders Arsamene to kill Romilda. Amastre asks if Serse wants to pierce the heart that repaid true love with treachery. When he says yes, she reveals her true identity and turns the blade on Serse, threatening to kill first him and then herself. Serse repents – Atalanta vows to find a new lover – and Serse finally asks everyone to forgive his outrageous behaviour.
© Bavarian State Opera