One of William Shakespeare's most enduring characters, Julius Caesar looms large in contemporary culture (the month of our SummerFest performances is named for him!). The story of the heroic Caesar and the entrancing Cleopatra have fueled countless books, plays, and films, but Handel's 1724 Giulio Cesare in Egitto (Julius Caesar in Egypt) is considered his masterpiece, not just by audiences in Handel's day, but also by opera-goers worldwide today.
Andrey Nemzer, noted Pittsburgh countertenor, takes on the demanding title role, with Opera Theater veteran Lara Lynn McGill as the beautiful Cleopatra, who, as Stacy Schiff observes in her bestselling recent biography of the queen, "has had one of the busiest afterlives in history, eventually becoming an asteroid, a video game, a cliché, a cigarette, a slot machine, a strip club, and a synonym for Elizabeth Taylor."
Opera Theater's new production features members of Chatham Baroque in the orchestra. "One of Pittsburgh’s greatest treasures” says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Chatham Baroque continues to excite local, national, and international audiences with dazzling technique and lively interpretations of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century music played on instruments of the period. Learn more on chathambaroque.org.
Performances of Julius Caesar are part of a global commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, as are those of Kiss Me, Kate, Cole Porter's lively backstage musical based on The Taming of the Shrew.
|Music||George Frideric Handel|
|Libretto||Nicola Francesco Haym|
|English Translation||Paul Trowell|
|Assistant Conductor/Chorus Master||Joel Goodloe|
|Assistant Conductor||Jon Erik Schreiber|
|Scenic Designer||Narges Norouzi|
|Costume Designer||Minjee Kasckow|
|Assistant Costume Deisgner||Kyle Huber|
|Lighting Designer||Bob Steineck|
|Hair and Makeup Designer||Deirdre Morgan|
|Assistant Director||Aaron Dunn|
|Stage Manager||Kathleen Stakenas|
|Assistant Stage Managers||TBD|
|Julius Caesar||Andrey Nemzer|
|Cleopatra||Lara Lynn McGill|
|Ptolemy||Min Sang Kim|
|Cornelia||Sara Beth Shelton|
|Curio||J. Patrick McGill|
|Jon Erik Schreiber|
|Jamie Erin Murphy|
Julius Caesar is sung in English, with English titles projected above the stage.
Running time: approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.The harpsichord used in this production has been generously loaned to Opera Theater by First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh
The StoryPart One
Fresh from his victory over Pompey’s army in Greece, Julius Caesar has to come to negotiate a truce in Alexandria, Egypt, where Pompey has sought refuge with King Ptolemy. When Ptolemy's captain, Achillas, presents Caesar with Pompey’s severed head, his widow, Cornelia, and his son, Sextus, throw themselves on Caesar's mercy. Caesar honors the fallen Pompey and displays compassion for Cornelia and Sextus.
Achillas is smitten with Cornelia. Sextus vows vengeance on his father's murderer. Cleopatra, King Ptolemy’s older sister, disguises herself as “Lydia” and seeks Caesar's help in securing her succession to the Egyptian throne. Caesar is attracted to her. Ptolemy urges Achillas to assassinate Caesar. As a reward he will give him Cornelia in marriage.
Later at a banquet, Sextus challenges Ptolemy to single combat. He is arrested, and Cornelia is sequestered in Ptolemy's harem. Achillas offers freedom to Cornelia and Sextus, if she will accept his love.
Caesar is brought to a club, where Lydia gives a private performance. Caesar’s infatuation grows. After the performance he is invited to her apartments.
Caesar and Lydia declare their love for each other, and Lydia reveals that she is really Cleopatra. Suddenly, Curio runs in to tell Caesar that a revolt has broken out and that his life is in danger. At the battle, Caesar finds himself outnumbered and jumps into the sea to escape.
The Romans believe that Caesar is dead. However, he has managed to swim ashore. There he finds his army defeated by Ptolemy's troops. From a hiding place he hears Sextus speaking with Achillas who has been mortally wounded. Achillas confesses that he killed Pompey, and voices his remorse. He gives the young man a gold seal, which will enable him to muster one hundred of Achillas’ troops. They are eager to take vengeance on Ptolemy.
A battle between the forces of Cleopatra and those of Ptolemy ends in a victory for Ptolemy and Cleopatra’s capture. With command of Achillas’ forces, Caesar is able to defeat Ptolemy and free Cleopatra. Sextus kills Ptolemy in revenge for his father's death. Cleopatra is crowned queen of Egypt. She and Caesar exchange vows of faithfulness and love.
Meet the Composer
Georg Friedrich Handel
[born Halle, 23 February 1685; died London, 14 April 1759]
Georg Friedrich (or Frederick) Handel was a German, later British Baroque composer who spent the bulk of his career in London, becoming well known for his operas, oratorios, anthems, and organ concertos. Handel received critical training in Halle, Hamburg, and Italy before settling in London in 1712; he became a naturalized British subject in 1727. He was strongly influenced both by the great composers of the Italian Baroque and the middle-German polyphonic choral tradition.
Within fifteen years, Handel had started three commercial opera companies to supply the English nobility with Italian opera. Musicologist Winton Dean writes that his operas show that "Handel was not only a great composer; he was a dramatic genius of the first order." As Alexander's Feast (1736) was well received, Handel made a transition to English choral works. After his success with Messiah (1742) he never performed an Italian opera again. Almost blind, and having lived in England for nearly fifty years, he died in 1759, a respected and rich man. His funeral was given full state honors, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey in London.
Born the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti, Handel is regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Baroque era, with works such as Water Music, Music for the Royal Fireworks and Messiah remaining steadfastly popular. One of his four Coronation Anthems, Zadok the Priest (1727), composed for the coronation of George II, has been performed at every subsequent British coronation, traditionally during the sovereign's anointing. Handel composed more than forty operas in over thirty years, and since the late 1960s, with the revival of baroque music and historically informed musical performance, interest in Handel's operas has grown.
Nicola Francesco Haym
[born Rome, 6 July 1678; died London, 31 July 1729]
Nicola Francesco Haym was an Italian opera librettist, composer, theatre manager and performer, and numismatist. He is best remembered for adapting texts into libretti for the London operas of Georg Friedrich Handel and Giovanni Bononcini. Libretti that he provided for Handel included those for Giulio Cesare, Ottone, Flavio, Tamerlano, Rodelinda, and several others; for Bononcini, he produced two, Calfurnia and Astianatte.
Haym's career began as a cellist in Italy, and he arrived in London in 1701: he swiftly became master of the 2nd Duke of Bedford's chamber music. He wrote the libretto for Bononcini's Camilla, a seminal work of enormous success that did much to establish Italian opera in London. Later, when operas in London came to be performed entirely in Italian, rather than in a bilingual blend of English and Italian, Haym spent much time adapting both libretti and music for the many pasticcios that were staged at this time. In 1720 he was employed as a continuo cellist for the new Royal Academy of Music; in 1722, however, he became the Academy's Secretary for its final six seasons: he not only wrote the libretti but also took on the role of stage manager during this time. Prior to his death in London in 1729, he was planning to assist Handel and Heidegger construct a new Academy after the demise of the old one.
Handel means Business
Handel, Händel, Hindel, Hendell—however you may choose to spell it, Georg Friedrich Handel's name in German implies "business." And surely a businessman he was—churning out operas, oratorios, anthems, and concertos of astounding quality and quantity. Throughout his life, but especially in London where he spent the last forty years of his life, he was adored by his audiences, ingratiating himself even more to the British public by Anglicizing the spelling of his name to George Frederick Handel and by becoming a British citizen in 1727. So honored was he that on his death in 1759 he was given a state funeral, was buried in Westminster Abbey, and his name was added to the Episcopal liturgical calendar—July 28—a date which he shares with Johann Sebastian Bach and Henry Purcell. It is perhaps noteworthy to mention that Handel built his career during the reign of England's German kings, the Hanoverians George I and George II.
Despite its popularity in the eighteenth century, Handel's music—with the exception of Messiah and a miscellany of less ambitious efforts–languished in the nineteenth century. In the early twentieth century Julius Caesar enjoyed several revivals in England and under the baton of Hans Knappertsbusch and Karl Böhm in Germany, but in the United States the opera was virtually unknown until 1966, when the New York City Opera revived it under the musical supervision of Julius Rudel (who, opera goers will recall, was a champion of Opera Theater of Pittsburgh) and the direction of another Pittsburgh stalwart, Pittsburgh Opera's Tito Capobianco. Beverly Sills thrilled audiences in the role of Cleopatra. It was Julius Caesar which launched her international career. A recording of this production is still available.
Known by its Italian name, Giulio Cesare in Egitto, the opera was composed for the Royal Academy of Music and received its premiere on 20 February 1724. The libretto, prepared by Nicola Haym, is an adaptation of at least one other attempt on the subject by the seventeenth century composer Antonio Sartorio. It should be noted that use of the same libretto (often with changes to suit the dramatic instincts of the composer) was a common practice in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
For the curious there exists an eighteenth century engraving sometimes identified with Julius Caesar. The set is generic, usable for any opera regardless of the location the plot might call for. The male characters are dressed in a pseudo-Roman military attire while the women are garbed in the fashion of the day. The engraving is somewhat comical for moderns, since the castrato is portrayed as a gangling giant who towers over the other singers.
Julius Caesar is considered by most of Handel's admirers as his finest Italian opera, while the more enthusiastic see it as the best of all examples of opera seria.