Handel’s Arminio was written for Covent Garden and while admired by the cognoscenti at the time it wasn’t a commercial success. It’s a well worked three act opera seria with nothing much to distinguish it from others of its ilk. For what it’s worth it’s set during Augustus’ attempt to conquer the land between the Rhine and the Elbe but its themes of death or glory and love versus duty, all with an impausible reconciliation ending, could easily be set anywhere. Actually it almost wilfully ignores history as the libretto claims it happened in 9AD when the real Arminius (Hermann the Cherusker) decisively defeated Varo (also in the opera) in the Teutoburger Wald ending Roman hopes of extending the Empire beyond the Rhine.(*)
Leonardo Vinci’s Artaserse is in many ways it’s a classic opera seria. The good guy roles are written for castrati but the baddies here too go to high voices; a castrato and a tenor. But what sets this apart is that it was written for Rome where it premiered in 1730. At that time women were not allowed on stage in the Papal States so the two female roles were played by castrati en travesti. In recreating it in 2012, l’opéra national de Lorraine chose to cast all five castrati roles with countertenors, producing a cast like nothing I’ve ever seen or heard.