Artabanes has served under King Xerxes of Persia for too long, and dreams of having the power of that throne for himself. As the general of the army, if Xerxes and his sons were eradicated, he could stake a claim to the throne. Then Artabanes could bring his own son, Arbaces, back to the palace, and Arbaces would succeed him on the throne of Persia.
When Artabanes puts things into motion, and murders King Xerxes in his bed, he does not expect to run into his own son while still holding the bloody murder weapon. With his adrenaline still rushing, he switches swords with Arbaces, and tells him to escape the palace. He then finds Artaxerxes, the king’s youngest son, who suspects his older brother Darius was to blame, and orders Artabanes to take revenge against Darius. Seeing another part of his plan easily completed, Artabanes kills Darius on Artaxerxes orders. Now there is only Artaxerxes to deal with.
Unexpectedly, Arbaces is caught whilst trying to escape the palace, still in possession of the bloody sword. It is obvious to everyone that he must have murdered the king, but Arbaces constantly maintains his innocence. Artabanes is called to judge Arbaces’s trial, and with no other evidence available is forced to sentence his own son to death. Ultimately, Artabanes is unable to go through with Arbaces’s sentence, and confesses to his crimes to save his son’s life. Artaxerses is crowned King of Persia, and Artabanes is exiled from the kingdom.
As the first opera seria in the English language, Arne’s Artaxerxes was incredibly well received after its first performance, and continues to remain popular with audiences today.
Artaxerxes guide sections