Providing much pleasure are the pearly sound and gracious phrasing of soprano Karina Gauvin (Seleuce) . . . Anna Bonitatibus, "officially" a mezzo, is decidedly soprano-ish, with a particularly vigorous rhythmic sense and real flair in ornamentation . . . Under Curtis's authoritative direction, his Complesso Barocco plays splendidly . . . A church near Viterbo, Italy, is the site of the recording -- clearly a lovely acoustic, producing a lot of "air" around the voices.
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International Record Review (London) / 01. March 2008
Alan Curtis . . . specializes in gracefulness, rather than earthiness, but that does no harm to Tolomeo. This is a rather intimate piece from the composer's middle period . . . Soprano Karina Gauvin warbles the heroine's arias gorgeously. Ann Hallenberg as the husband she's searching for and Anna Bonitatibus as the princess in love with the husband are very fine as well. These parts were written for the biggest singing stars of the 18th century, so we are very fortunate to have so many artists who can do them justice now.
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Dallas Morning News / 22. March 2008
Tolomeo is sung here by Ann Hallenberg, whose range of technical skills includes neat runs and a very presentable trill. As his wife Seleuce, Karina Gauvin is charming, and decorates her music gracefully. Anna Bonitatibus sings the more complex role of Elisa . . . with spirit . . . As Tolomeo's villainous brother Alessandro, Romina Basso's mellow mezzo is well deployed . . . The orchestral playing is brisk and characterful, while conductor Alan Curtis provides a vital response to the music's needs and is particularly sensitive to recitative. The sound has plenty of substance.
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BBC Music Magazine (London) / 01. April 2008
There is not a weak link in this superb cast, with all the singers perfect for the vocal and dramatic properties of their roles. Ann Hallenberg's supple coloratura is perfectly aligned with dramatic awareness and melodic sensibility in numerous accompanied recitatives and arias: the sleep scene in Act 1 is beautifully judged and the hedonistic accompagnato that precedes "Stile amare" is gripping. Anna Bonitatibus's singing is magnificent ("Qell'onda che si frange" is deliciously sung, and her ornamentation and cadenza are fabulous) . . . Karina Gauvin's singing is dramatic and colourful: her interplay with two recorders in "Fonti amiche" is simple yet ravishing and the hushed "Dite, che fa" (with muted strings and offstage echoes from Tolomeo) is utterly gorgeous. Alan Curtis's recent Handel opera recordings have been admirable in patches . . . It is a delight to hear the Italian-based American harpsichordist and Il Complesso Barocco back on top-notch form in this delectable performance. The overture oozes with charisma and the orchestral playing is beautifully paced and articulated. Each ritornello shows finesse and a deep-rooted fondness for the subtleties in Handel's writing. Recitatives are never sluggish but Curtis does not force proceedings unnaturally, allowing the language and rhetoric enough space to work their magic. He has all the energy and dynamism necessary but also realises that courtliness and elegance are vital elements of Handel's music. All in all, this is a perfect Handel opera recording.
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Gramophone (London) / 01. July 2008
. . . a buoyant, colorful and ideally paced performance of ¿Tolomeo,¿ Handel¿s seldom performed opera about lust, revenge, heartache and false identities. The outstanding cast includes the mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg in the title role and the soprano Karina Gauvin as Seleuce.
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The New York Times / 27. November 2008
Alan Curtis leads his Il Complesso Barocco and a starry group of singers in a more than competent rendition . . . Ann Hallenberg is a wonderful high-ish mezzo and a compelling stage presence, and her singing here as ever has gleaming high notes and deft fioriture . . . Karina Gauvin is . . . a highly committed performer, and as Seleuce she sings impeccably and with feeling . . . The scheming Elisa is sung by Anna Bonitatibus -- beautifully, again, . . . 'Piani pur' is robustly delivered. This recording fills a gap and features some lovely singing . . .
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Opera (London) / 01. April 2009
Alle fünf Rollen sind hier mit Sängern der Spitzenklasse besetzt, die eben nicht nur virtuos ihre Koloraturen abliefern, sondern auch als vokale Persönlichkeiten in ein Spannungsverhältnis zueinander treten.
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Opernwelt (Berlin) / 01. April 2008
. . . [die] Partien dieser Aufnahme sind erstklassig besetzt. Unter solch günstigen Voraussetzungen kann "Tolomeo", den Dorothea Schröder in ihrer exzellenten Werkeinführung als "Essenz von Händels Musikdramatik" bezeichnet, seine Wirkung voll entfalten: Curtis treibt in den Rezitativen das Drama mit flüssigem Parlando und kräftigen Akzenten aus der Continuogruppe voran und gibt in den Arien den Solisten auf der Basis eines klaren Grundaffekts genügend Spielraum zur Demonstration ihrer Virtuosität . . . [man] versteht, warum Curtis so versessen auf Opernproduktionen ist.
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Fono Forum (Euskirchen) / 01. May 2008
Alan Curtis betont mit dem auf alten Instrumenten wunderbar klangschön und höchst präzise aufspielenden Ensemble Il Complesso Barocco vor allem die moderate Balance und den melodischen Fluss . . . es wird mit viel Ruhe und Liebe zum Detail musiziert. Ann Hallenberg weist sich einmal mehr als eminent geschmackvolle und stilsichere Händel-Interpretin aus und biete die Titelpartie mit elegantem Mezzo und einer sicheren Registerverblendung dar. Betörend schön geraten vor allem die innigen, lyrischen Liebesarien. In optimalem Kontrast hierzu steht der pastose Alt von Romina Basso in der Hosenrolle des Alessandro . . . Karina Gauvin gibt Tolomeos Gattin Seleuce mit angenehm warm getöntem Sopran, erlesener Piano- sowie Legatokultur, wobei die Stimme besonders in der Mittellage volltönend anspricht. Anna Bonitatibus findet mit ihrer etwas dunkler getönten, sehr variablen Stimme für die Elisa gleichermaßen verführerisch schillernde Töne wie auch affektgeladene Koloraturgirlanden als Ausdruck für die Rachsucht der Figur.
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Das Opernglas (Hamburg) / 01. June 2008
Fürwahr edel ist zuvorderst die vokale Interpretation, und es herrscht vollkommene Ebenbürtigkeit im Ensemble. Ann Hallenberg singt mit klarem, zu heroischer Steigerung fähigem Mezzo die Titelpartie, Karina Gauvin gibt mit leuchtendem Sopran Tolomeos Gattin Seleuce. Agilität und perlende Schönheit der Koloraturen sind bei beiden Sängerinnen so vortrefflich wie bei Anna Bonitatibus als Elisa, die ihrem Sopran zudem die gebührend kapriziöse Note verleiht, und bei der expressiv-sonoren Altistin Romina Basso als Alessandro. Pietro Spagnolis Araspe ist ein cholerisch polternder Bass-Potentat . . . Von großer Gesangskunst und hoher stilistischer Kompetenz zeugen die Da-capo-Verzierungen, die keinem sinnlosen Stimmband-Stretching gleichen, sondern organisch aus der Gesangslinie entwickelt sind. So fügen sich Artistik und Ausdruck zu einer Stimmigkeit, die -- auch im Vergleich mit anderen hochkarätigen Händel-Aufnahmen -- dem Ideal des Seria-Belcanto berückend nahe kommt. Bei Alan Curtis wird auf dem derzeit wohl höchsten Händel-Parnass gesungen . . . An dramatischer Verve, sehniger Kontur und sensibler Timbrierung lassen es Curtis und seine Musiker nicht mangeln.
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Concerto (Köln) / 01. August 2008
Quasi im Jahresrhythmus graben sich Alan Curtis und sein Instrumentalensemble Il Complesso Barocco durch die musikdramatische Hinterlassenschaft Händels. Und sie tun dies mit enormer Lust und gereiftem Können . . . Nur schon die beiden innigen Duette zwischen Tolomeo und Seleuce an den Aktenden zwei und drei, in betörender Interpretation Ann Hallenbergs und Karina Gauvins, würden den Kauf der Einspielung lohnen. Grossartig aber auch Anna Bonitatibus als Elisa, nicht nur der messerscharfen Spitzentöne wegen. Und das von Curtis hellhörig gelenkte Orchester findet exakt jenes Mittelmass zwischen musikalischem Fluss und affektueller Durchdringung, das der schlicht gehaltenen Partitur angemessen scheint.
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Neue Zürcher Zeitung / 03. October 2008
. . . den "Tolemeo" nannten die gestrengen Rezensenten des Fachmagazins "Gramophone" schlicht "die perfekte Händel-Aufnahme"
Record Review /
Die Presse (Wien) / 17. April 2009
. . . la délicatesse et la musicalité des uns et des autres sont largement mis en valeur . . . la distribution est de tout premier ordre et parfaitement équilibrée, avec une vraie intelligence musicale et stylistique . . . chaque chanteur s'est pleinement investi: dans tous les airs, les changements de couleurs, les délicats effets d'expressivité, les ornementations, tout est parfaitement pensé, et les récitatifs sont très vivants. Aucun sentiment de monotonie, donc. Dans le rôle-titre, Ann Hallenberg fait briller son beau timbre chaud et frémissant, sa vaillance, sa personnalité et sa virtuosité . . . Elle est magnifique . . . et à pleurer dans le superbe . . . d'une simplicité déchirante . . . Anna Bonitatibus, pleine d'élégance, de style, et de délicatesse, constitue pour nos oreilles un constant ravissement. Ici, elle est à nouveau à son meilleur, faisant de chacun de ses airs . . . un moment plein de charme et d'émotion, rare et indispensable . . . Nous avons souvent été assez sévères dans ces colonnes à l'égard des précédentes gravures haendéliennes d'Alan Curtis mais c'est sans arrière-pensée et même avec un certain enthousiasme que nous louons cette réalisation au charme tout à la fois discret et bien réel.
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Classica - Repertoire (Paris) / 01. March 2008
. . . la musique déborde à chaque scène. Non, l'ouvrage ne recèle pas uniquement le tube de l'époque ("Non lo diro") et le tube d'aujourd'hui ("Stille amare"). Les deux duos sont des bijoux. La brise des lentes vallées traverse "Mi volgo ad ogni fronda". L'émotion la plus tendre et la plus directe imprègne "Tornal sol". La scène des amants qui se cherchent sans se voir ("Dite, che fà") est un tableau sonore miraculeux . . . Les trois mezzos nous comblent de sveltesse et d'intelligence; Spagnoli, Basso et Bonitatibus "parlent" un italien de rêve. Bonheur sans nuage . . . Haendel adoré . . .
Record Review /
Ivan A. Alexandre,
Diapason (Paris) / 01. April 2008
Un enregistrement d'une belle clarté et précision, qui bénéficie d'une superbe brochette des plus belles voix haendéliennes du moment. La captation, bien qu'elle paraisse opérée en studio, a le mérite de tenter de restituer l'espace d'une représentation d'opéra, avec des déplacements de personnages dans les récitatifs à plusieurs.
Record Review /
Philippe van den Bosch,
Classica - Repertoire (Paris) / 01. April 2008
. . . la orquesta está muy bien trabajada, tanto en afinación como en empaste, especialmente en el sector cuerdas, teniendo en cuenta que se trata de instrumentos originales, y ésta está por supuesto siempre atenta a los cantantes. Por el lado de estos últimos, Curtis ha hecho un buen casting: en todos los casos se trata de voces magníficas, la dicción de todos y cada uno de ellos es excelente.
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Audioclásica (Madrid) / 01. November 2008
TOLOMEO, OR HARD TIMES FOR PRIMA DONNAS
When Handel arrived in London in 1710, the capital still did not boast an established opera house. Indeed, it was not until 1719 that a group of the local nobility founded an organization designed to mount regular performances of Italian operas with eminent singers. They called it the Royal Academy of Music, which, in spite of its name, was in fact a public limited company, its members buying shares in the hope of enjoying not only musical pleasures but also financial profit. Even the royal household contributed substantially to the scheme. Handel was appointed the institution's artistic director, while the administration of the company was placed in the hands of several directors whose financial mismanagement ensured a note of disharmony from the outset. For nine consecutive seasons Handel was able to stage impressive productions of his own and other composers' operas at the King's Theatre in the Haymarket, and yet it was not long before he sensed that many English music lovers continued to harbour a profound antipathy towards the idea of a drama that was filled with singing from start to finish, especially when that singing was as ostensibly “unnatural" as coloratura writing. The number of opera lovers with an international taste was not sufficient to allow the Royal Academy of Music to survive in the longer term, not even when in 1726 the directors engaged the services of Faustina Bordini (generally known simply as “Faustina") alongside her two great rivals, the internationally celebrated star castrato Senesino and the prima donna Francesca Cuzzoni. Quite the opposite: the question as to which of the two female singers was the greater artist divided the public into two irreconcilable camps and merely made the situation worse.
By the autumn of 1727 Handel's supporters were looking anxiously to the future: “I doubt operas will not survive longer than this winter, they are now at their last gasp," wrote Mary Pendarves, one of the composer's closest confidantes, to her sister; “the subscription is expired and nobody will renew it. The directors are always squabbling, and they have so many divisions among themselves that I wonder they have not broke up before; Senesino goes away next winter, and I believe Faustina, so you see harmony is almost out of fashion."
In spite of all these problems Handel succeeded in bringing out no fewer than three new operas of his own during the 1727/28 season: Riccardo Primo, Siroe and Tolomeo, the last of them on 30 April 1728. The printed libretto of Tolomeo was dedicated to the Earl of Albemarle, and in it the librettist Nicola Francesco Haym speaks in poetically veiled but unmistakable terms of the desperate search for new sponsors: the Royal Academy now needed financial support if it was to survive at all, as three months earlier John Gay had staged his Beggar's Opera at the Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre, achieving a sensational success with his brazen satire of polite society and Italian opera seria. Crowds flocked to the tiny old theatre to be amused by Gay's pastiche of the enmity between Cuzzoni and Faustina transferred to the two “heroines" of The Beggar's Opera, Polly Peachum and Lucy Lockit. The two Italian sopranos had indeed come to blows in public during a performance of Bononcini's opera Astianatte in London on 6 June 1727. Now they and Senesino had to contend with rapidly vanishing audiences in the Haymarket.
With Tolomeo, Handel chose a subject from Mediterranean history that could hardly have been further removed from that of The Beggar's Opera. The titular hero is a historical figure, Ptolemy IX Soter II, king of Egypt and Cyprus (116-81 bc, with interruptions), who for a time ruled the country together with his tyrannical mother Cleopatra III (not Caesar's lover, but one of several other rulers bearing the same name) and his younger brother, Ptolemy X Alexander I. The most important events in the opera, including Ptolemy's flight into exile in Cyprus and his return to power following his mother's death, are based on real-life events, although anyone studying the life of the real Ptolemy Soter will soon realize that the true story of this ruler and his family was far more dramatic than any opera. But it would have flown in the face of the contemporary theatre's classical aesthetic to have used murder, war and rebellion as motivating forces in the plot, with the result that the political conflicts from Ptolemy Soter's reign are summarized in Tolomeo as a mere episode dominated by Baroque affects and culminating in an obligatory happy ending. Haym's model was Carlo Sigismondo Capece's libretto Tolomeo et Alessandro, ovvero La corona disprezzata, which Domenico Scarlatti had set to music in Rome in 1711.
The cast list and staging of Tolomeo are distinguished by a remarkable degree of thrift. The action unfolds in a mere handful of largely undifferentiated settings (“Countryside by the seashore", “A wood", and so on); there are no special effects requiring elaborate stage machinery; and there are only five characters. Are these to be seen as signs of a decline in the fortunes of the Royal Academy? The music historian Reinhard Strohm has offered a different interpretation of this contrast with spectacular operas such as Riccardo Primo, seeing in Tolomeo an alternative to the typical Italian Baroque opera whose implausibilities were so often criticized in England. The orientation of Handel's opera is more clearly towards classical drama, notably with regard to its unity of place, all the sets representing changing aspects of the same spot, Araspe's village on Cyprus, including its immediate surroundings. With the single exception of a closet in Araspe's apartments, all the scenes are natural settings that do nothing to distract from the action. There are no surprising interventions by alien forces, and the plot, driven forward by an interconnected series of emotions and misunderstandings, all of which make sense to us as ordinary human beings, pursues its course without any illogical interruptions.
Handel's music likewise aspires to a greater credibility. None of the arias has a lengthy prelude, and all are relatively brief, with the result that they do not hold up the action. Moreover, Handel dispenses almost entirely with obbligato instruments to characterize individual affects, enabling him to concentrate increasingly on the vocal line and in that way to ensure that the message of each aria is pointed up by the “speaking" character alone. Thanks to the composer's decision to focus on essentials in the arias, we are in a better position in Tolomeo than in other operas to reconstruct the artistic qualities of Handel's singers.
Even though Handel and Senesino could ostensibly not abide one another, the alto castrato sang the male lead in all the opera productions staged by the Royal Academy. Handel knew that his star singer drew society ladies to the theatre, and Senesino knew that Handel's arias invariably showed off his voice's finest qualities. Writing in 1754, Johann Joachim Quantz explains what those qualities were: “Senesino had a powerful, clear, equal and sweet contralto voice, with a perfect intonation and an excellent shake. His manner of singing was masterly and his elocution unrivalled. Though he never loaded Adagios with too many ornaments, yet he delivered the original and essential notes with the utmost refinement. He sang Allegros with great fire, and marked rapid divisions, from the chest, in an articulate and pleasing manner. His countenance was well adapted to the stage, and his action was natural and noble. The role of the hero suited him better than that of a lover."
Other sources praise Senesino's expressive mezza voce in slow passages, an art that he could exploit in Tolomeo above all in the (ostensibly) great death scene (III, 6), with its aria “Stille amare": Ptolemy has emptied a goblet of poison (although, as it soon turns out, it contains only a sleeping draught); to an accompagnato in which, filled with bitterness, he calls on his enemies and the gods to take pleasure in his death, after which he again conjures up his love of Seleuce. In the following aria, with its ghostly orchestral accompaniment, we seem to hear the poison dripping through his veins. Before he can repeat the A-section of his aria, Ptolemy collapses, a surprise effect both musically and dramatically that has all the greater impact, coming, as it does, at the work's dramatic climax shortly before the finale.
Alongside the majestically tall and popular Senesino, the small round figure of the soprano Francesca Cuzzoni inevitably seemed more like a caricature of a heroine. But when she sang, her unprepossessing appearance no longer mattered. During her best years - before 1730 - she had clear and sweet-sounding high notes and was distinguished by the assured taste of her ornaments and by the purity of her intonation. She was said to have no rivals in arias that were emotionally charged, affecting or sensual. Handel exploited all these qualities in Cuzzoni's opening aria as Seleuce in Tolomeo, “Mi volgo ad ogni fronda" (I, 3), which begins with a lyrical 12/8 time-signature on a high g'' supported only by pianissimo strings playing in their lower register. It is an entry that must have had Cuzzoni's fans in raptures. Seleuce's later aria, “Dite, che fa, dov'è" (II, 6), has a similar character, with its sophisticatedly delicate accompaniment of violins and viola con sordino, oboes and pizzicato basses. Rarely did Handel create as enchanting a picture of nature in music - with the additional charm of an echo duet - as he did in this sylvan scene.
Faustina Bordini had often appeared in Italy alongside her rival Francesca Cuzzoni in the years before 1726. She was seen as a specialist in dramatic mezzo-soprano roles, her “fiery Allegro" as admired as her brilliant ornaments and outstanding abilities as an actress. The role of the temperamental, aggressive and malicious Elisa must have been ideally suited to her vocal type. Ever at pains to give his two prima donnas equal musical weight, Handel stressed her special strengths in her first aria, “Quell'onda che si frange" (I, 2): Faustina's e'' was regarded as her best note, so that Handel generally wrote arias for her in the keys of A or Emajor, as here, and emphasized the note e''. After “warming up" at the start of the opening act, each of the two leading ladies has a great aria in the following scenes, first Elisa (“Se talor miri un fior"), then Seleuce (“Fonti amiche"). The singers could now show off their virtuoso skill at decorating the vocal line and thus satisfy their respective fans in the audience.
The remaining characters are easily overshadowed by the three great stars of Senesino, Cuzzoni and Bordoni. In 1728 Araspe was sung by the bass-baritone Giuseppe Maria Boschi, who had taken part in Handel's Agrippina in 1709 and who was famous for his convincing portrayal of villains and tyrants. We know rather less about the alto castrato Antonio Baldi, who took the part of Alexander. He appeared with the Royal Academy between 1725 and 1728 but was regarded as a mediocre singer.
A month after the first night of Tolomeo, a general meeting of the Royal Academy voted to disband the enterprise with effect from 1 June 1728. Handel was given permission to use the theatre and all its fittings for opera performances for the next five years and, together with the impresario John Jacob Heidegger, he began work on a new project that was similarly backed by the nobility. Tolomeo was revived in 1730 and again in 1733, on the second occasion with Senesino returning to the title role. But then another 200 years were to pass before the opera was seen again: not until 1938 was it staged at the Göttingen Handel Festival in an arrangement by Fritz Lehmann. It is regrettable that even today the work remains overshadowed by Handel's more superficially effective operas because, through the rigour of its action and arias freed from all unnecessary trappings, Tolomeo may be said to represent the essence of Handel as a music dramatist.
Dorothea Schröder 11/2007
On a beach on the island of Cyprus, Ptolemy rails at the sea for robbing him of his wife Seleuce, whom he believes has drowned. After his mother, Cleopatra, had exiled him from Egypt in order to award the throne to his younger brother, Alexander, his forced separation from Seleuce has been the hardest blow for him to bear. In his despair he is about to throw himself into the sea when he sees a shipwrecked sailor struggling to reach the land. Ptolemy goes to his aid, and when the rescued mariner sinks to the ground in a dead faint, Ptolemy realizes that it is his brother. His initial impulse is to wreak vengeance on Alexander, but in the end he decides to spare his life. He withdraws.
Elisa, the sister of the Cypriot ruler Araspe, enters. She is unhappy because she has fallen in love with a simple shepherd. Alexander revives from his faint and as soon as he sets eyes on Elisa, he is enchanted by her beauty. He tells her that he is an Egyptian prince, whereupon Elisa bids her servants take him to her nearby country house. His fondness for her has not escaped her notice, but her heart is set on the shepherd “Osmin", who is in fact none other than Ptolemy.
Elisa leaves, and Seleuce enters. She, too, is downcast as she has spent the last three months searching in vain for her husband, Ptolemy. Araspe, who thinks she is a shepherdess by the name of Delia, confesses that he loves her.
Elisa sees that “Osmin" is unhappy. She offers to do everything in her power to make his life less burdensome. Left alone, he broods on the situation: Elisa is importuning him with her foolish love; Seleuce's death cries out to be avenged; and his sense of morality forbids him to bear arms against his mother and brother. In the face of all these conflicts, Ptolemy seeks a moment's respite in sleep.
In her search for Ptolemy, Seleuce approaches the sleeping figure and thinks she recognizes her husband in him. Unnoticed by the others, Araspe watches these events unfold. He assumes that “Delia" has fallen in love with the shepherd while spurning his own offer of love. In order to punish her, he decides to kill his rival. Seleuce flees. Ptolemy wakes up and denies that he knows anyone by the name of Delia. Araspe spares Ptolemy but banishes him from his sight.
The infatuated Elisa continues to look for “Osmin". Ptolemy enters, confused. He is now resolved to face his mortal enemies. In reply to Elisa's shrewd questioning, he admits that he is not Osmin but Ptolemy, whom the others are all looking for. Araspe enters and is outraged to find Osmin still there. He instructs Elisa to take Osmin to the shepherdess Delia in order to establish his true identity.
Seleuce is consumed by longing for the husband she loves so dearly. Suddenly Elisa and Ptolemy enter. Ptolemy immediately recognizes his wife and tries to embrace her, but she prudently pretends not to know the shepherd and withdraws. Elisa has now discovered everything she wanted to know. She tells Ptolemy that if he returns her love, his life will be spared and he will regain his throne. But Ptolemy replies that he can love only Seleuce. Left alone, the spurned Elisa abandons herself to thoughts of revenge. Alexander enters. He announces that Araspe has sanctioned his love of Elisa, and now it remains only for her to agree. As proof of his love, she demands that he kill Ptolemy. Once she has left, Alexander ponders on his contradictory feelings: a love that knows neither laws nor reason is unworthy of him. Instead of killing Ptolemy, he will give him his freedom and restore him to power - and yet he remains seduced by the image of his beautiful beloved, whose cruelty even now terrifies him.
Seeking each other in vain, Seleuce and Ptolemy wander through the wood. Araspe confronts Seleuce and tries forcibly to embrace her, at which point Ptolemy enters to defend his wife. Araspe now knows the true identity of “Osmin" and “Delia" and is implacable. Husband and wife bid each other a touching farewell before they are led separately away.
Alexander is informed of the death of his mother, Cleopatra. He resolves to return to Egypt with the captive Ptolemy and refuses to heed Araspe's advice that he should kill his brother. Araspe interprets his refusal as his fear of fratricide and thinks that Alexander will be grateful if someone else commits the murder.
Meanwhile, Elisa urges Seleuce to give up Ptolemy: if he is not willing to marry Elisa, he must die. Seleuce tries to persuade her husband to save his life by renouncing her, but her attempt ends in a reaffirmation of their love for each other. Elisa vows terrible revenge.
In a remote part of the wood, Alexander plans to meet his loyal followers. Seleuce enters on her way to her execution. The henchmen who are escorting her flee when Alexander intervenes. Alexander is astonished to recognize Seleuce, whom he thought had drowned. He hails her as Egypt's queen.
Ptolemy defiantly empties a goblet of poison that Elisa has sent him. Before losing consciousness, he rages once more against the men and gods who have treated him so cruelly. His only consolation is his memory of Seleuce.
Araspe presents Alexander with the lifeless Ptolemy. Alexander is appalled, but Araspe thinks only that in the wake of Ptolemy's death no one else can take Seleuce from him. Elisa confesses to having had Seleuce put to death. Ptolemy, by contrast, owes her his life because she has substituted a sleeping draught for poison. At that very moment Ptolemy wakes up. Alexander leads in the rescued Seleuce and is reconciled with his brother. He bids them set off for Egypt, where Ptolemy will be restored to power as the country's rightful ruler.