Premiered: February 20, 1724 - London
Setting of Giulio Cesare:
Handel's Giulio Cesare takes place in Egypt in 48 B.C.
The Story of Giulio Cesare
Giulio Cesare, ACT IAfter defeating Pompeo's forces, Giulio Cesare's political rival and ex-son-in-law, Cesare and his troops settle victoriously on the banks of the Nile river. Pompeo's second wife, Cornelia, begs Cesare to have mercy upon her husband. He will only show mercy if Pompeo asks for it in person. A few moments later, Achille, leader of the Egyptian military brings Cesare a casket containing the head of Pompeo, presented as a gift from Tolomeo. Tolomeo and his sister, Cleopatra co-lead Egypt. Upset by the gesture, Cesare takes leave to reproach Tolomeo. After Cornelia faints, Cesare's assistant, Curio, who is secretly in love with Cornelia, tells her that he will avenge her husband's death. Cornelia disdains his offer, and her son, Sesto takes revenge into his own hands.
Meanwhile, Cleopatra has come to learn that Tolomeo devised plans to murder Pompeo only to gain favor with Cesare. Realizing what she must do, she decides to win favor from the Roman conquerer by her own means. Achille brings Tolomeo the news that Cesare was unhappy with Pompeo's death, and offers to kill Cesare himself should he be given Cornelia's hand in marriage. Tolomeo relishes the thought of no longer having to deal with Cesare, and agrees to Achille's terms.
Disguised as "Lidia", Cleopatra enters into Cesare's camp. She meets with Cesare, who is distracted by her beauty, and divulges the hardships she has faced. They are interrupted by the grieving Cornelia as she searches for her husband's sword. Sesto isn't far behind to stop her, and he vows to avenge his father's death. "Lidia" offers guidance to reach Tolomeo, and Cesare, Sesto, and Cornelia leave to find him.
Cesare enters Tolomeo's palace, suspecting something may happen. When Tolomeo sees Cornelia, he immediately falls in love with her, but gives the impression to Achille that he will still give her to him. Sesto challenges Tolomeo, but loses, and Cornelia rejects Achille's advances. Burned by her emotions, Achille calls in his soldiers to arrest Sesto.
Giulio Cesare, ACT IICesare has come to Cleopatra's palace in search of "Lidia." Cleopatra instructs her advisor to lead Cesare into her room. She begins singing music of love and cupid's arrows as Cesare draws nearer to her bedroom doors. He is captivated once more by her beauty.
In Tolomeo's palace, Achille tries desperately (and unsuccessfully) to win Cornelia's affections. She turns her head from him in scorn. After the dejected Achille leaves, Tolomeo takes his turn to win her over, but is met with the same harsh feelings. Sesto arrives hell-bent on killing Tolomeo.
Back in Cleopatra's bedroom, her tryst with Cesare is interrupted when they hear conspirators fast approaching. She reveals her true identity to him and offers to help him escape. Instead, he chooses to fight.
Tolomeo sits among his harem of women, including Cornelia, when Sesto bursts into the room, charging the king. Achille quickly tackles him to the floor and announces that his troops have just attacked Cesare. Having cornered him within the palace, the troops forced him to jump out the window into the billowing sea, where he surely died. Achille then demands that Tolomeo give Cornelia to him, but Tolomeo refuses. Overcome with grief, Sesto tries to stab himself with his sword, but Cornelia stops him. She relights his vengeful flame and he vows to kill his father's murderer once again.
Giulio Cesare, ACT IIITolomeo and Cleopatra have taken up arms against each other. As their own armies battle for dominance, Cesare, who survived his fall, prays for Cleopatra's victory. However, Tolomeo triumphs over Cleopatra, and he orders his men to escort her out of the palace in chains. Sesto, on his way to kill Tolomeo, stumbles upon a wounded Achille. Having been betrayed by Tolomeo, who has kidnapped Cornelia, Achille hands Sesto a sigil that gives him full command of his troops stationed in a nearby cave. Sesto takes the sigil and Achille dies. Cesare arrives moments later and asks Sesto to let him take the sigil and control the army. For if he cannot save both Cornelia and Cleopatra, he will die trying. Sesto relinquishes the sigil and Cesare quickly departs.
Cleopatra sits in a small cell within a camp of Tolomeo's troops, and prays for Cesare. She is astonished when she spots him leading an army into the camp. After rescuing her, the lovers embrace before setting out to Tolomeo's palace. Sesto arrives at the palace first and finds Tolomeo courting his mother again. This time, however, Sesto is able to kill Tolomeo.
When Cesare and Cleopatra enter Alexandria, they are greeted by cheers and adoration. Cornelia presents tokens of Tolomeo's death to Cesare, who then hands them to Cleopatra. He tells her that he will support her as queen and the two announce their love. The citizens rejoice and revel in the new found peace.