Ciro in Babilonia, dramma con cori in two acts to a libretto by Francesco Aventi, was first produced at the Teatro Comunale, Ferrara, on 14th March 1812.
The singers at the first performances were Eliodoro Bianchi (Baldassare), Maria Marcolini (Ciro), Elisabetta Manfredini Guarmanni (Amira), Anna Savinelli (Argene), Giovanni Layner (Zambri), Francesco Savinelli (Arbace), Giovanni Fraschi (Daniello).
The autograph has been lost.
Baldassare’s Palace. The story is drawn, with a great deal of licence, from various sources, mainly from the Old Testament (Daniel, 5). Baldassare (Belshazzar), King of Babylon, is besieged in his capital city by Ciro (Cyrus), King of Persia, who is carrying on the war with the help of the Medes. During an attack on the enemy camp Baldassare succeeds in capturing Ciro’s wife, Amira (together with her handmaiden Argene), and their young son Cambise. Baldassare falls in love with Amira and offers to marry her immediately; when she refuses he threatens her with death. However, Argene and Amira can count on being helped by Baldassare’s general, Arbace, who was born in Persia and who is in love with Argene.
Outside the walls of Babylon. In his encampment, Ciro is thinking how he might get his wife and son back. Arbace arrives, announcing that he has a plan to propose to Ciro for getting inside Babylon.
Baldassare’s Palace. Baldassare learns that a messenger has come from Ciro. This is Arbace’s plan: the messenger is Ciro himself in disguise.
The great hall of audience. Ciro, in his messenger’s disguise, proposes that the siege will be lifted.in exchange for the return of Amira and Cambise. Baldassare is ready to surrender the boy but not Amira. Ciro then promises that he will persuade Amira, for her own good and that of Cambise, to marry Baldassare (“at least, that way I’ll get to see her”, he says to himself). When Amira comes in and recognizes Ciro she is overwhelmed and her husband only just manages to avoid being unmasked. Now Baldassare pretends to go out and, from his hiding place, listens in to the conversation between Ciro and Amira. Ciro, who knows that Baldassare is listening, tries to convince Amira to marry his rival; Amira cannot understand his attitude and, without realizing what she is doing, gives away the secret of her husband’s disguise. Baldassare comes back in and has Ciro imprisoned, now that he has been recognized.
Baldassare’s Palace. Following Argene’s request, Arbace promises to try to bring Amira and Ciro together again, arranging for Amira to visit her husband in prison.
An underground dungeon. Ciro reflects on his destiny and promises that if the God of Israel should interfere to free him, in exchange he will free his Hebrew prisoners and allow them liberty of worship. Amira comes in and the pair join in a love duet, interrupted by the arrival of Baldassare (with his guards), again threatening both of them with death and separating them.
Baldassare’s Palace. Zambri, a Babylonian Prince who has remained faithful to Baldassare, advises Argene that she and Amira will be expected to sit at the head of the table at Baldassare’s great feast that same night. In the Great Dining Hall in which the feast is held all the leading citizens of Babylon will join Baldassare at table, a table which will be decorated with the sacred ornaments from the Temple at Jerusalem. Baldassare’s blasphemous behaviour provokes thunder and lightning that interrupt the banquet: and a disembodied hand traces on the wall the mysterious words “Mane, Thecel, Phares”. All present are horror-struck; Baldassare sends for his magicians to come at once and interpret the writing. The magicians are joined by the Hebrew prophet Daniello (Daniel), who gives the following interpretation of the writing on the wall: because of the ingratitude shown by Baldassare and his race to “the God of Abraham”, going so far as to destroy the Temple and to profane its sacred ornaments, the Kingdom of Syria will be divided between the Medes and Persians; Babylon will be destroyed; Baldassare will be conquered and killed that very night. Seeing Baldassare’s despair, his magicians assure him that to avoid the hreatening prophecy, all he has to do is to sacrifice Amira, Ciro and Cambise to the gods. Baldassare does not want Amira to die, but he gives in to the magicians’ counsel. Left alone, Daniello comments that Ciro, far from dying, will become King of Babylon and “minister of God’s undying wrath”. Meanwhile, Amira is told about her death sentence: she is not worried on her own account, but only for Ciro and Cambise.
The Palace. Zambri, who on his own part is worried about the turn of events, is asked by Argene to intercede for Amira, Ciro and Cambise; he tells her that it is now too late: Baldassare is wrapped up in his own thoughts and will no longer listen to anybody.
The Great Square of Babylon. Everything has been made ready for the execution of Ciro and his family, in the presence of Baldassare, who wants to hurry on the ceremony. Ciro bids farewell to life, and the condemned prisoners file off while Baldassare goes towards the Palace. But inside the Palace itself, soon afterwards, Zambri relates how the enemy forces have penetrated the city and entered the royal palace itself, taking advantage of the time when Baldassare was asleep. When he attempts to fight back, he is faced with Ciro and Arbace who are leading the troops of the Medes and Persians; Ciro spares Zambri’s life, but following the commands of the God of Israel he orders all Baldassare’s family to be killed. Meanwhile Argene encourages Arbace to hope that his love for her might be returned, and everybody, both victors and vanquished (the latter in chains), find themselves back in the Great Square of Babylon for the celebration of Ciro’s triumph.