Opera Scotland

Giulio Cesare in Egitto Julius Caesar in Egypt; Giulio Cesare

Music
George Frideric Handel (born Halle, 23 February 1685; died London, 14 April 1759).

Text
Nicola Francesco Haym.

Source
Earlier version by Giacomo Francesco Bussani set by Sartorio (1676), and revised in 1685.

Premières
First performance: London (King’s Theatre, Haymarket), 20 February 1724.
First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 21 October 1992.
Scottish Opera première: As above.

Background
Julius Caesar has been, in modern times, one of the most popular of Handel’s operas. The roles of Caesar and Cleopatra were composed for two of the greatest singers of the time, the castrato Senesino and the soprano Cuzzoni. Several of the male roles – Caesar, Sextus, Ptolemy and Nirenus – are nowadays performed either by mezzo-soprano or counter-tenor. The last act contains an even more than usually spectacular succession of arias, especially for the two leads.

Characters
Julius Caesar (alto)
Cornelia, Pompey’s widow (contralto)
Sesto (Sextus), son of Pompey and Cornelia (mezzo-soprano)
Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt (soprano)
Tolomeo (Ptolemy), Cleopatra’s brother, and joint ruler (alto)
Achilla, his general (bass)
Nireno, Cleopatra’s eunuch (alto)
Curio, a tribune (bass)

Plot Summary
Caesar has instigated the murder of Pompey by Ptolemy’s forces. There follows a brief truce with Cornelia and Sextus, but the latter soon swears to have revenge on Caesar and Ptolemy. Cleopatra decides to ally herself with Caesar against her brother. When Sextus challenges Ptolemy he is arrested and imprisoned, while his mother is enslaved. Achilla offers to free her if she will marry him, but she refuses. Cleopatra, in the guise of Lidia, a servant, sets in train her plan to seduce Caesar. Ptolemy orders that Cornelia be taken to his seraglio. This infuriates Achilla, who reminds Ptolemy that she was to have been his reward for murdering Caesar. The people show signs of unrest, and Cleopatra urges Caesar to flee. He has no success in quelling the mob, and Cleopatra, now revealing herself, does no better. Reports arrive to suggest that Caesar has been drowned. Achilla swaps sides and takes his troops over to Cleopatra. However in the ensuing battle Ptolemy still wins and Cleopatra is captured. Achilla is mortally wounded, and before dying gives Sextus information to allow entry to Ptolemy’s fortress. Caesar, who has survived after all, takes advantage and assembles his troops to rescue Cleopatra. Ptolemy’s final assault on Cornelia is interrupted by Sextus, who kills him in a fight. Caesar and Cleopatra swear eternal love, and they are reconciled with Cornelia and Sextus. Peace is restored between the factions, to everyone’s joy.

The Cast

Achilla
 Ptolemy's general
Cleopatra
 
Cornelia
 Pompey's widow
Curio
 a Tribune
Giulio Cesare
 Julius Caesar
Nireno
 Cleopatra's eunuch
Sesto
 Sextus, son of Pompey and Cornelia
Tolomeo
 Ptolemy, Cleopatra's brother

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