Metropolitan Opera Broadcast: Giulio Cesare
Radio Broadcast and Live in HD Transmission of Saturday, April 27, 12 P.M.
Cleopatra (Danielle de Niese) entertains Cesare (Daniels)
© Robert Kusel/Lyric Opera of Chicago 2013
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Music by George Frideric Handel
Libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym
THE CAST (in order of vocal appearance)
Cesare countertenor, DAVID DANIELS
Curio baritone, JOHN MOORE
Cornelia mezzo, PATRICIA BARDON
Sesto mezzo, ALICE COOTE
Achilla baritone, GUIDO LOCONSOLO
Cleopatra soprano, NATALIE DESSAY
Nireno countertenor, RACHID BEN
Tolomeo countertenor, CHRISTOPHE
Conducted by HARRY BICKET
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus
Production: David McVicar
Set designer: Robert Jones
Costume designer: Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting designer: Paule Constable
Choreographer: Andrew George
Chorus master: Donald Palumbo
Musical preparation: Donna Racik,
Steven Eldredge, Gareth Morrell,
Bradley Brookshire, Jonathan Kelly
Assistant stage directors: Eric Einhorn,
Jonathon Loy, Kathleen Smith Belcher
Stage band conductor: Jeffrey Goldberg
Fight director: Nicolas Sandys
Prompter: Donna Racik
Italian coach: Gildo Di Nunzio
Harpsichord continuo: Bradley Brookshire
Production a gift of the Arthur F. and Alice E.
Adams Charitable Foundation, in memory
of William B. Warren, former Co-Trustee
and Governor of the Foundation
Additional funding from
The Annenberg Foundation,
and the National Endowment for the Arts
Production owned by Glyndebourne
||Egypt, 48 B.C.
| Sc. 1
| Sc. 2
in the royal palace
| Sc. 3
| Sc. 4
||The royal palace
| Sc. 1
||The palace garden
| Sc. 2
||Tolomeo's harem garden
| Sc. 3
| Sc. 1
||Tolomeo's throne room
| Sc. 2
||The seashore near Alexandria
| Sc. 3
| Sc. 4
Host: Margaret Juntwait
Commentator: Ira Siff
Music producer: Jay David Saks
Producers: Mary Jo Heath, Ellen Keel,
Executive producers: Mia Bongiovanni,
Directed for Live Cinema by: Gary Halvorson
HD host: Renée Fleming
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as part of The Met HD Live in Schools program.
Julius Caesar is embroiled in a bitter struggle with Pompey the Great for control of the Roman world. In their most recent battle, at Pharsalus (48 BCE), Caesar defeated his rival, who subsequently fled to Egypt, which is under the joint rule of Ptolemy and his sister, Cleopatra. Caesar has pursued Pompey to Alexandria.
ACT I. The Egyptian people welcome Caesar (Cesare) to Alexandria. Cornelia and Sextus (Sesto), Pompey's wife and son, request that peace be made between the two Romans, and Caesar agrees. Just then, Achillas (Achilla), the Commander of the Egyptian army, enters with a gift for Caesar from Ptolemy (Tolomeo), the King of Egypt — the head of Pompey. Appalled, Caesar tells Achillas that he must go to Ptolemy's court and meet with the King. Sextus assures his mother that he will avenge his father's death.
In her apartments in the royal palace, Cleopatra declares that the throne will one day be hers alone. Nirenus (Nireno), her confidant, tells her that her brother has sent Pompey's head to Caesar. She decides to address Caesar on different and more effective terms. Ptolemy enters, and the siblings quarrel over who is more fit to be the Egyptian sovereign. After Cleopatra leaves, Achillas tells Ptolemy that his gift to Caesar was not welcomed. He advises his king to have Caesar murdered. Achillas himself will see to the murder if Ptolemy will reward him with Cornelia's hand in marriage. Ptolemy agrees, although he, too, desires Cornelia.
At his encampment, Caesar contemplates the urn containing Pompey's ashes. He ponders the fleeting nature of life. Cleopatra enters and announces herself as "Lydia," an attendant of Queen Cleopatra. Caesar is struck by her beauty. She tells Caesar that, though she is of noble birth, Ptolemy has deprived her of her fortune. She asks for justice. Caesar tells her that he is going to Ptolemy's court and will present her request there. Once he has gone, Nirenus assures Cleopatra that she has snared the affections of the Roman. Cornelia approaches to pay her respects to Pompey's ashes. She picks up a sword from the pile of trophies and swears vengeance for her husband's killing. Sextus reiterates that he will fulfill his duty. Cleopatra comes forward, still as "Lydia," and tells them she will help in their quest for revenge. She can help them gain access to the palace.
In the royal palace, Caesar voices his disapproval of Pompey's murder to Ptolemy. Left alone, he reflects that the crafty hunter moves silently and unseen. He departs. Achillas presents Cornelia and Sextus to Ptolemy. The Romans berate the king for Pompey's murder. As punishment for their bold words, the king orders Sextus confined to the palace and Cornelia to the harem garden. Achillas makes advances to Cornelia but is rejected. He leaves mother and son to bemoan their cruel fate.
Cesare (David Daniels) succumbs to the charms of Cleopatra (Natalie Dessay) in the guise of the attendant "Lydia"
© Nick Heavican 2013
ACT II. In the palace garden, Nirenus assures Cleopatra (still disguised as "Lydia") that Caesar will be fascinated by her. "Lydia" provides entertainment for Caesar, presenting herself as Virtue. Caesar is enchanted. While Cornelia grieves, Achillas enters and again courts her. Ptolemy arrives. Achillas tells him that he has been unsuccessful with Cornelia but assures him he will kill Caesar that very day. Cornelia threatens to kill herself, but Sextus appears with Nirenus in time to prevent her. Sextus renews his promise to kill Ptolemy.
Cleopatra calls on Venus to help her conquer Caesar's affections. She pretends to sleep. Caesar enters and is dazzled by her. Curius (Curio), the Roman Tribune, runs in with the news that the Egyptians are calling for Caesar's death. "Lydia" reveals her true identity as Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, and offers her aid in quelling the uprising. She advises Caesar to flee the region, but he intends to master the situation. Cleopatra, alone and recognizing Caesar's extreme vulnerability, begs the gods for help.
David Daniels as the title character in David McVicar's
production of Giulio Cesare
© Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago 2013
ACT III. Ptolemy emerges victorious from a struggle between his and Cleopatra's forces; she is now her brother's prisoner. He puts her in chains and leaves, telling her she will soon kneel before him. Cleopatra mourns her fate and is led off.
Caesar appears alone by the sea, having survived a drowning attempt in the Alexandria harbor and been left for dead. He hides as Sextus and Nirenus enter, looking for Ptolemy. They discover Achillas, mortally wounded at the water's edge. He confesses to the murder of Pompey, asks them to speak kindly of him to Cornelia and gives them a ring, telling them that a hundred armed men are ready to obey its bearer. He dies. Caesar comes forward and takes the ring from Sextus. He explains his escape from the harbor and orders them to follow as he goes to collect the soldiers and rescue Cornelia and Cleopatra from Ptolemy.
In her apartments, Cleopatra is bidding her attendants farewell when Caesar and the soldiers rush in and free her. He leaves to continue the battle as she rejoices at her sudden turn of fortune.
Ptolemy tries to court Cornelia in the palace harem, but Sextus discovers them and kills the king. Cornelia blesses her avenging son.
Caesar assures Sextus of his friendship and proclaims his love for Cleopatra. He places her on the throne as the people celebrate.
Born in Halle in 1685, George Frideric Handel spent his apprentice years in Hamburg, the only German city that had a lyric theater independent of court patronage. There he came to appreciate the Italian singing style. The young musician spent the years 1706–10 in Florence, Rome and Venice, where his Rodrigo and Agrippina were produced with immense success.
Arriving in England in 1710, Handel found a vogue for Italian opera. The newly built Queen's Theatre in the Haymarket offered a contract for a new work, Rinaldo, which enjoyed such tremendous acclaim that Handel embarked on a thirty-year career of creating dramatic pieces for the London stage.
Nicola Francesco Haym's libretto for Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Handel's eleventh endeavor for the Haymarket, bears a foreword stating the plot's historical background, drawn from Plutarch. Though based on fact, the text deals with characters and events fancifully.
The premiere, on February 20, 1724, set a benchmark for London's enthusiasm for the imported art form. The title role was created for the famous castrato Senesino, that of Cleopatra for prima donna Francesca Cuzzoni, whose supremacy had been established by her first London appearance in Handel's Ottone a year earlier.
Giulio Cesare's first performance in the U.S. was on May 14, 1927, in an English-language production at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. The Met premiere came on September 27, 1988, in a production originally designed for a 1979 ENO staging. The Met's current Giulio Cesare, directed by David McVicar, was first produced at Glyndebourne in 2005. The first Met performance of the McVicar staging is on April 4, 2013.
Winton Dean's Handel's Operas 1704-1726 (Oxford) is an exhaustive study of the composer's stage works; less comprehensive, but also of interest (and easier to find) is Dean's The New Grove Handel (New Grove paperback). Paul Henry Lang's George Frideric Handel (Dover) is a useful, sympathetic biography.
René Jacobs fields an excellent cast of principals, headed by Jennifer Larmore (Cesare) and Barbara Schlick (Cleopatra), for his superb Harmonia Mundi recording. Marc Minkowski's fairly muscular reading (DG Archiv), recorded live in Vienna, has an elegant Cleopatra in Magdalena Kožená, but a bland Cesare. RCA's 1967 recording documents the thrilling New York City Opera production by Tito Capobianco; although it offers a heavily cut and rearranged version of Handel's score, it remains valuable for the sparkling Cleopatra of Beverly Sills and Norman Treigle's sovereign Cesare.
On DVD, David McVicar's stylish staging features Danielle de Niese and Sarah Connolly as Cleopatra and Cesare, paced by William Christie (BBC/Opus Arte) at Glyndebourne. Charles Mackerras conducts a 1984 studio performance of John Copley's English-language ENO production, starring Janet Baker, in handsome form as Cesare, and Valerie Masterson, a neatly kittenish Cleopatra (Image). Peter Sellars's imaginative Cesare staging (Decca) sets the opera in the contemporary Middle East and uses the uncut score (nearly four hours long); Craig Smith conducts an intensely committed cast, with especially fine work delivered by Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (Sesto) and Drew Minter (Tolomeo).
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