|Giulio Cesare Synopsis|
|Giulio Cesare Libretto|
|Contralto or Mezzo-Soprano or CounterTenor|
|Previous scene:||Bella, non lagrimare!|
|Next scene:||Bella, contanto abborri|
One of Georg Friedrich Händel's (1685 – 1759) greatest and most successful operas, Giulio Cesare was first performed at the King's Theatre in London on February 20, 1724, when it ran for 13 performances. Handel subsequently revived the work on three occasions, the last in 1732. It was composed for the Italian opera season of the Royal Academy, the organization formed by a group of noblemen under Handel's musical direction in 1719. From its inception, the Academy had sought to present some of the greatest singers of the day to London audiences; the original cast of Giulio Cesare was no exception: the great castrato Senesino (Caesar), and Francesca Cuzzoni (Cleopatra), one of the leading prima donnas of the day, took the stage to premiere Handel's work.
By the conventions of the day, Giulio Cesare is unusual in a number of respects, not least of which is its subject matter. Based as it is on the famous historical love affair between Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, it departs from the more traditional realm (at least for opera seria of the time) of mythology. Around this central argument an excellent libretto, cast in the usual three acts by Nicola Haym, weaves a story of political intrigue and treachery involving Cleopatra's brother and co-ruler of Egypt, Tolomeo (Ptolemy).
Giulio Cesare was the only opera Handel composed for the Royal Academy during 1724, and he lavished extra time and care on a score that frequently breaches the conventions of its genre. To a greater degree than in any other of Handel's operas, there is a flexibility of design that departs from the rigid alternation of recitative and da capo aria. Handel's orchestration is also richer than in any other of his operas. Nowhere is this richness and flexibility better demonstrated than in the extraordinary scene in Act Two in which Cleopatra attempts to seduce Caesar by revealing to him a pageant set on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. Here Handel employs a double orchestra, one on stage including harp, theorbo, and viola da gamba, combined with the main body in a ravishing symphony of sensuality.
Above all, perhaps, the greatness of Giulio Cesare resides in the person of Cleopatra, for whom the composer created one of the most acute and vividly drawn characterizations in operatic history. In the course of her eight arias, Cleopatra's progress from a self-confident ruler and vivacious flirt to mature young woman is charted with unparalleled sympathy and insight. Nowhere is she more affecting than in adversity, particularly after her imprisonment by Tolomeo, when she is given three magnificent arias, culminating in her famous "Piangerò." While it is Cleopatra who dominates the opera, the other major characters are also unusually well-drawn -- Caesar truly heroic yet vulnerably susceptible, and Tolomeo a more rounded and convincing villain than is frequently the case. While Handel may have later equaled the achievement of Giulio Cesare in Orlando and Alcina, it attains an overall level he never surpassed.
Source: AllMusic (
Although originally written for Opera, I created this Arrangement of the Aria: "Se in fiorito ameno prato" from "Giulio Cesare in Egitto" (HWV 17 Act II Scene II No. 18) for Marimba & Strings (2 Violins, Viola & Cello).
Se in fiorito ameno prato l'augellin tra fiori e fronde si nasconde,
fa più grato il suo cantar. Se così Lidia vezzosa spiega ancor notti canore, più graziosa
fa ogni core innamorar.
If in flowery pleasant meadow the augellin among flowers and fronds is hidden,
his singing is more grateful. If so, Lidia Vezzosa explains even the most graceful singing nights
makes every core fall in love.