Brilliance Seldom Heard: Vivaldi's 'The Coronation of Dario'

Much of the opera's action revolves around a single question: Which of three ambitious men will become the next king of Persia. So there's not much-- the opera's title tells us that! So what's left is the tale of exactly how Dario comes to wear the crown.

As ACT ONE, Ciro, the former king of Persia, has recently died. His daughters, Statira and Argene, have been in mourning. But they now see a vision of Ciro's ghost, telling them to move on with their lives.

Argene is smart as a whip, and knows exactly what she wants. She's in love with Dario and is determined to marry him, so they can rule Persia together. The beautiful Statira, on the other hand, is not, as the saying goes, the sharpest knife in the drawer. To call her "simple minded" might seem unkind, but it pretty much sums things up.

Dario, for his part, is more than eager to become the next king. But he's not in love with Argene. Instead, for reasons unclear, he loves Statira. Dario is a nobleman, and his bid to become king is supported by all the local rulers. But he has two rivals: Oronte, a good-looking young man supported by the common folks, and the military man Arpago, who has the support of the troops.

Dario decides the best way forward is to ask for Statira's hand in marriage. So he does. The naïve Statira responds by asking her sister Argene what this "marriage" business is all about. What does Dario mean, she wants to know, by asking to "share the empire, and the royal couch." The whole thing leaves Argene furious, while their lady-in-waiting Flora is actually moved by Statira's innocence.

Meanwhile, Dario's rivals Oronte and Arpago confront each other over which of them would make the best king. Dario steps between the two, and negotiates a deal. They agree that they'll all try to win Statira's hand in marriage, and the man who succeeds will rule Persia.

The first act also introduces Alinda. She's Oronte's girlfriend -- and unhappy at his pursuit of Statira. There's also Niceno -- counselor to both princesses, Statira and Argene. He's also in love with Statira. So as the act ends, he agrees to help Argene in keeping her sister away from Dario.

At the star of ACT TWO, Dario is hoping that he'll soon accomplish his goal -- to marry Statira, and become king. With that done, he decides, he'll be through with torments of love. But when Argene approaches him, love is exactly what's on her mind. She pretends that her hand is trembling, and persuades him to write a letter for her. It's an ardent letter, supposedly to a lover who has rejected her, and she hopes Dario will understand that she actually intends it for him. He doesn't, leaving Argene disappointed, but still determined.

But from there, things get worse for Argene. Statira discovers the letter, and thinks Dario wrote it himself-- to Argene! Statira may be a bit slow, but even she understands this apparent betrayal. Dario has already proposed to her, and reading the letter drives her into a jealous fury. Outside the palace, in the city square, Oronte sings of his hope that Statira will soon make up her mind, and choose him as her husband. Statira hears this, but suddenly, despite Oronte's ardor, she offers her hand to Arpago, who responds with a joyful song. That, apparently, makes Statira feel sorry for Oronte. So she offers himher other hand -- much to the dismay of Alinda, Oronte's girlfriend.

Back inside the palace, Dario unwittingly tries to enlist Argene's help in winning over Statira. Argene pretends to agree. But when she takes her sister aside, she quietly tells Statira that Dario has been deceiving her. Statira doesn't seem to understand. And, once again seeming clueless, she now offers to marry Dario.

Dario naturally agrees. But he soon learns that Statira has also agreed to marry both Oronte and Arpago. The counselor Niceno tries to calm Dario, but as the act ends he lashes out in a furious rage -- determined to take revenge.

As Act Three begins, Argene is still plotting. Early on, she recruited the counselor Niceno to her cause. Now, he takes Statira out of the city into the forest, telling her they're looking for Dario. Then he leaves her there, at the mercy of the wild beasts.

With that done, Argene goes to Dario. She tells him Statira has fled the city, and offers Dario her own hand in marriage. Dario isn't convinced. Statira is hardly the sort who would simply wander off and disappear. Worried, he immediately leaves to search for her.

At that, with Dario and Statira both seemingly gone, Argene decides on another way to seize power. She offers the throne to Oronte -- provided that he seals his commitment by murdering his girlfriend Alinda. Oronte doesn't know whether to denounce Argene or take pity on her.

Meanwhile, Dario actually finds Statira, lost in the forest, and the two finally express their love. Dario also confronts Niceno, and leaves him in the woods to fend for himself.

Back in the city, Argene still assumes her sister is dead, and proclaims herself Queen -- but Dario promptly shows up, with Statira, and exposes all of Argene's plots and schemes. His former rivals, Oronte and Arpago, both pledge their loyalty to Dario. He pardons them and agrees to rule Persia, with Statira as his queen, as the opera ends.