Opera in three acts by Georg Friedrich Händel
Libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym based on Giacomo Francesco Bussani’s libretto “Giulio Cesare in Egitto”
World premiere on February 20, 1724 at King’s Theatre in London
Premiere at the Estonian National Opera on January 27, 2012
Händel is one of the greatest composers of the late baroque period and Julius Caesar tells the story of history’s most famous war and most famous love affair in a rich musical and emotional language. The opera is one of Händel’s most popular ones. During the composer’s lifetime the opera was revived three times in London and ran for 38 performances. The leading characters of Händel’s operas are often well-known historical figures, but the composer is not after historically detailed facts, instead he creates a palette of humane characters. The librettist, London-based Italian musician Nicola Haym used various earlier librettos, mainly re-working an old libretto by Giacomo Francesco Bussani that had originally been set by Antonio Sartorio’s opera Giulio Cesare in Egitto (1676). The use of pre-existing libretti was a regular practice for the London operas, though they were cut and adapted to suit the current casts of performers.
In the original production the roles of Caesar and Ptolemy were sung, respectively, by the castrati Senesino (Francesco Bernardi) and Gaetano Berenstadt, and Cleopatra by the soprano Francesca Cuzzoni. In the 20th century the role of Cleopatra has been sung by famous sopranos, such as Lisa della Casa, Joan Sutherland, Evelyn Lear, Beverly Sills and Montserrat Caballé. In order to add dramatic effect, Handel added a stage band of oboe, two violins, viola, harp, gamba, theorbo, bassoon and cello, representing the nine Muses on Mount Parnassus, to introduce and accompany Cleopatra in “V’adoro, pupille”. Handel’s most popular opera is staged by Georg Rootering (Germany) who delighted the Estonian audiences with his production of Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice at Birgitta Festival in 2010.
Caesar wages war against Egypt and falls in love with the beautiful 19-year-old Cleopatra. Cleopatra dreams of becoming the Queen of Egypt but currently she has to share power with her brother Ptolemy. In hope of claiming the throne, she is forced to affiliate with her enemy and seduce Caesar, who is conquering Egypt. Unexpectedly this feeling grows into uniting love that defies political intrigues and war.