About this work
The opera Poro was one of three librettos by Pietro Metastasio set by Handel, the others being Siroe and Ezio. Metastasio's librettos were very popular with opera seria composers, but although poetic, his characterizations are very stiff, and his scenic constructions rigid. The plots are often based on historical fact and involve political intrigue and polemicizing, as well as moral endings and preaching. They preach a certain reality to their audience, and whereas Italian lovers of opera seria conventions ate up the complicated nonsense of his plots, they left Handel the dramatist rather cold. One would think that, as a result, his settings of Metastasio's librettos would therefore be less than splendid. However, Handel often altered the librettos to create more flexible and dramatic scenes, and wrote music which gave the characters full motivations. He creates full-blooded human beings, whose passions and struggles come to the fore. Rather than the stiff, cardboard characters of Metastasio's mechanical plots, Handel develops in his music all of his character's emotions. The music of Poro is imaginative, surprising, splendid, and sublime. It is a heroic opera of the first order, and one of his masterpieces. It was a huge success with the London audience, and ran for sixteen performances during its first run. Not only that, but the publisher John Walsh published a songbook of the audience's favorite melodies, which was sold in great demand. The success of Poro, together with the success of the revivals of Rodelinda and Rinaldo, two other extremely popular operas with the London public, made the 1730-1731 opera season a huge success for Handel. He was the hero of the operatic stage. The nobility again loved him, and it seemed as if he had triumphed over his competition.
The opening of Poro is extremely dramatic. It begins with a grand overture, and then the curtain rises on the middle of a battle scene. Poro has just been defeated by Alexander, and attempts suicide. In order to quicken the action of the drama, Handel shortened many of the lengthy recitatives of Metastasio and, under the influence of current Italian trends, composed a greater number of vocal ensembles. Whereas Metastasio wrote his story about the hero Alexander, Handel's opera concerns love, jealousy, passion, and despair. Handel's imaginative force is imposed on Metastasio, and brings forth an altogether new creation. There are two major duets in the opera, one which closes Act I, and another which ends the opera. In the first, Poro and Cleofide have a love argument, in which each quotes the music of the other in a taunting and bitter fashion. At the end, as the two are finally united, they have a love duet of great sublimity. Of the many moods struck in the opera, there is a military symphony, lovely pastoral music, a beautiful dirge for Cleofide entitled "Se ciel mi divide", and a wonderful siciliano for Gandarte. The finale of the opera is lengthy, brilliant, and wonderfully constructed out of several pieces. The opera was so popular that within one year it had been given twenty performances.