Tolomeo, re d’Egitto (Ptolemy, King of Egypt) is an opera seria by the German/English composer George Frederic Handel (1685-1759). It was first performed at the King’s Theatre, London in 1728. Despite its initial success the work then fell into obscurity until the resurgence of Baroque opera in the 20th century.
Perhaps interest in this particular opera was reignited following Arthur Somervell’s popular 1928 adaptation of the aria Non lo dirò col labbro (I will not say it with my lips). Somervell’s version for voice and piano – entitled Silent Worship – was featured in the 1996 film adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Emma, in which Emma (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) accompanies Frank Churchill (Ewan McGregor). Although Somervell’s version pre-dates Austen’s novel by over a century the original version does appear in Austen’s own handwritten songbooks.
The aria in the opera is sung by Alessandro (Ptolemy’s brother) as he tells of his unrequited love for Elisa (sister of the King of Cypress) to whom he can never voice his feelings.