HANDEL: Giulio Cesare in Egitto

First Performance: 20 February 1724, King’s Theatre,

Principal Characters:

Giulio Cesare (Julius CÊsar), first Emperor of the Romans Male Alto
Curio (Curius), Tribune of Rome Bass
Cornelia, Wife to Pompey Contralto
Sesto Pompeo (Sestus), Son to Pompey and Cornelia Soprano
Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt Soprano
Tolomeo (Ptolomey), King of Egypt and Brother to Cleopatra Male Alto
Achilla, General and Counsellor to Ptolomey Bass
Nireno (Nirenus), Friend to Ptolomey and Cleopatra Male Alto

Time and Place: Circa 48 B.C.E. in Egypt.

The Argument (Argomento):

JULIUS C∆SAR Dictator, having subdued the Gauls, and not being able
thro’ the Interest of Curius, a Tribune, to obtain the Consulship,
carried so far his Resentment to the Subversion of the Latine Liberty, that
he shew’d himself more like an Enemy than a Citizen of Rome. The
Senate being apprehensive of his growing Power, in order to check it, sent
the Great Pompey against him with a numerous Army, which was defeated by
CÊsar in the Pharsalian Fields. Pompey after this Rout, remembering the
good Services he had done to the House of Ptolomey, thought it best to
shelter himself there with Nornelia his Wife, and his Son Sestus; in the
very time that Cleopatra and Ptolomey (the young ambitious and licentious
King) forgetting their Affinity of Blood, were like inveterate Foes,
arm’d against each other in Contention for the Crown. Cicero was made
Prisoner, the good Cato kill’d himself in Utica, and Scipio with the
poor Remains of the Roman Legions wandered Fugitive in Arabia. CÊsar being
sensible, that nothing but the entire Destruction of Pompey could establish
him Emperor of Rome, pursued him even into Egypt. Ptolomey naturally cruel
and void of Honour, in hopes to ingratiate himself with CÊsar, and procure
his Assistance against Cleopatra, presented him with the Head of Pompey,
whom he had murdered at the Instigation of Achilla. CÊsar wept at the
horrid Sight, taxing Ptolomey of Treachery and Barbarity; who not long
after, a the Insinuation of the same wicked Counsellor, infringing upon the
Sacred Laws of Hospitality, attempted privately to take away his Life;
which CÊsar narrowly escap’d by throwing himself from the Palace into
the Water, where he saved himself by swimming; upon this, arm’d with
Fury and Resentment, he turn’d his Forces against the bloody Tyrant,
who was soon after kill’d in the Heat of Battle. CÊsar falling in
Love with Cleopatra, plac’d her upon the Throne of Egypt, he being at
that time Master of the World, and first Emperor of Rome.

These Facts are taken from the Comment. of CÊsar, lib. 3. & 4. Dion.
Lib. xiij. Plut. in the Life of Pompey and CÊsar; which Authors affirm,
that Ptolomey was vanquish’d by CÊsar, and slain in Battle; but how,
was uncertain.

Whereupon it was thought necessary in the present Drama to make Sestus
the Instrument of Ptolomey’s Death in Revenge for his Father’s
Murder, varying from History only in Circumstances of Action.

GIULIO CESARE In Egitto. DRAMA Da Rappresentarsi Nel REGGIO
TEATRO di HAY-MARKET, per La Reale Accademia di Musica, 3-4 (London: Tomaso
Wood nella Piccola Bretagna, 1724).


Act One

The victorious general Julius CÊsar is welcomed with jubilation. He
accords Cornelia, Pompey’s wife, and their son Sestus, his respect, and is
prepared to make peace with his opponent.

In order to win CÊsar’s favour, the Egyptian king Ptolemy sends his
general Achilla to present CÊsar with the head of Pompey who has been
murdered. CÊsar is outraged by this deed.

Cornelia laments the death of her husband; Sestus swears to avenge his
father’s murder.

Cleopatra, Ptolemy’s sister, as first-born child considers herself to be
the legitimate ruler of Egypt. She is intent on winning CÊsar’s affections in
order to gain the throne.

Achilla tells Ptolemy of CÊsar’s anger over Pompey’s murder. He is
prepared to murder CÊsar as well on condition that he be allowed to wed
Cornelia. Ptolemy agrees to the bargain.

Prompted by Pompey’s death, CÊsar reflects on the pointlessness of life
and fame. At this moment Cleopatra appears. She pretends to be Lidia, one of
Cleopatra’s servants, and asks CÊsar for support against Ptolemy. CÊsar is
fascinated by her and promises help.

Cornelia is mourning the loss of her husband. Sestus wrests from her the
sword with which she intends to kill Ptolemy. He considers this act of
vengeance to be his right alone. Cleopatra has overheard their plans and
promises to help them gain entry into the palace.

CÊsar meets Ptolemy. He reproaches the Egyptian for the murder of Pompey.
Although Ptolemy appears to be hospitable, CÊsar senses danger and withdraws.
Accompanied by his mother, Sestus has entered the palace and challenges
Ptolemy to a duel, which the latter refuses to accept. Instead he condemns
Cornelia to serve in his harem. Achilla promises her and her son freedom if
she agrees to become his wife. Both indignantly reject this offer. Lamenting
their fate, they part.

Act Two

Cleopatra has instructed her confidant Nirenus to bring CÊsar to her
chambers, where she receives him, still in the guise of Lidia.

CÊsar appears and is overwhelmed by her beauty.

Achilla asks Cornelia once again for her hand, but is rejected.

Ptolemy is also enchanted by Cornelia’s beauty and desires to marry her.
When she indignantly repudiates her husband’s murderer, he threatens to use
force. Cornelia is on the point of ending her own life, but Sestus holds her
back. Nirenus promises Sestus that he will bring him to Ptolemy. Sestus again
swears to avenge his father’s murder.

Cleopatra is expecting CÊsar; she asks the goddess of love to help her
seduce him. CÊsar promses Cleopatra marriage.

At this moment Curio enters to warn CÊsar of murderers that Ptolemy has
dispatched. Cleopatra reveals her true identity to CÊsar and offers him
protection. CÊsar, however, is undaunted and departs to do battle, leaving
Cleopatra distraught and fearing for the life of her beloved.

Act Three

In the battle between Cleapatra’s troops and those of Ptolemy, the latter
are victorious. He has his sister taken prisoner. Cleopatra laments her fate
and curses her brother.

CÊsar has managed to escape drowning at sea and hopes that he can once
again turn fate to his own advantage.

Sestus has been unable to find Ptolemy on the battlefield. He and Nirenus
discover Achilla mortally wounded. He admits to having instigated Pompey’s
murder in order to win Cornelia, to have planned the plot against CÊsar, and
to have betrayed Ptolemy, by whom he believes to have been deceived. For this
he must now pay the price of death. As he dies, he gives Sestus a seal.
Whoever possesses the seal can command one hundred armed men who are
concealed nearby. CÊsar, who has been listening to the conversation, demands
that he be given the seal and departs with Sestus in order to liberate
Cleopatra and Cornelia.

The captive Cleopatra is expecting to be killed and bids farewell to her
companions. CÊsar frees her.

Ptolemy tries once again to force his attentions on Cornelia. As she draws
a sword against him, Sestus steps between them. He throws himself on Ptolemy
and kills him. His father has finally been avenged.

CÊsar embraces Sestus as a friend and declares Cleopatra Queen of

Bayerische Staatsoper (translation: Christopher Balme)]

Click here for
complete libretto.

image_description=Beverly Sills as Cleopatra
first_audio_name=Georg Friedrich Handel: Giulio Cesare in Egitto
WinAmp, VLC or iTunes
product_title=Georg Friedrich Handel: Giulio Cesare in Egitto
product_by=Norman Treigle (Giulio Cesare), Ricardo Yost (Curio), Maureen Forrester (Cornelia), Peter Schreier (Sesto), Beverly Sills (Cleopatra), Franz Crass (Tolomeo), A. Matilla (Achilla), G. Gallardo (Nireno), Karl Richter (cond.)
Live performance, 12 September 1968, Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires