Giulio Cesare

(Giulio Cesare in Egitto — Julius Caesar) Handel

Opera seria

The one where Pompey’s widow is sent to gather flowers in the garden of a harem, where Cleopatra is imprisoned by her brother and Caesar takes a dip in a harbour. CAST Romans:   Alto (castrato) Bass Contralto Soprano   Soprano Alto (castrato) Bass Alto (castrato)    

Caesar (Guilio Cesare), First Emperor of Rome Curius (Curio), his steward and a Roman Tribune Cornelia, Pompey’s wife Sextus, Pompey’s son
Egyptians:

Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt Ptolemy (Tolomeo), King of Egypt Achillas (Achilla), an Egyptian courtier Nirenus (Nireno), an Egyptian courtier
Roman soldiers, Egyptians   3 acts: running time 3 hrs 45 mins

STORY Act I Sc 1  Egypt. A bridge over a branch of the Nile near Alexandria
We are in the Nile Delta in September 48 BC and Julius Caesar is chasing his old rival Pompey and getting a big Hello from the Egyptians. Pompey’s wife Cornelia and son Sextus jump out and say our man is ready to call it quits. Good show says Caesar I am ready for a bit of pax myself. And what’s under the dishcover those Gyppos are carting in? A sight to gladden your heart sir Emperor says the Egyptian General Achillas it’s Pompey’s head (whips off the cover). A present from Ptolemy. Cornelia faints. How disgusting says Caesar and against the Geneva Convention too. Please inform your king I won’t tolerate this. Cornelia comes to and tries to commit suicide. Stop that says Curius and why not marry me instead? Faugh! says Cornelia: one of Caesar’s men? No thank you. O dash it says Curius. Exits. We’re in a nasty fix Mum says Sextus: in the middle of Caesar’s army and Dad decapitated. You must avenge him son says Cornelia.

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Act I Sc 2  A room in Cleopatra’s palace
Bad news Ma’m says Nirenus your brother Ptolemy topped Pompey and sent his head to Caesar trying to suck up to him. I’ll go to Caesar and see if my sexiness doesn’t work better than sending dead heads says Cleopatra: I’ll get even with that scheming rat my brother. I’ll get to be the one and only monarch you wait and see. Oh yes says Ptolemy stepping out from behind a screen. Indeed. You get back to raffia work and leave the ruling bit to me. And you get back into your massage parlours and leave it to me says she. Exits. So how did Caesar like my little joke? asks Ptolemy. A frost says Achillas. A flop. He didn’t like it at all. Listen. Why don’t you murder him too? I’ll do it in exchange for guaranteed sex with Pompey’s widow Cornelia. OK not a bad idea says Ptolemy. Is Cornelia really as sexy as all that?

Act I Sc 3  Caesar’s camp. The ashes of Pompey’s head in an urn
Caesar is brooding over Pompey’s minimal remains when Cleopatra arrives with Nirenus disguised calling herself Lydia. Whew! what a stunner thinks Caesar, Pompey forgotten. Whew! thinks Curius: if I can’t get Cornelia then this one will do pretty well. A favour please sir Emperor she says. Lovely hair says Caesar. Nice boobs says Curius coarsely. Sure I’ll help you lady says Caesar but I’m busy just now. Exits. He’s got hot pants for you Cleo says Nirenus you got him fixed. Enter Cornelia and Sextus. Cleopatra and Nirenus duck behind a screen. We can pick up a sword here to kill Ptolemy they say but how can we find him? I’ll help you says Cleopatra I’m Lydia and I work at his place. He’s been a dirty dog to me and I shall be very happy to see him murdered — Nirenus: kindly show these persons to the palace.

Act I Sc 4  An antechamber in Ptolemy’s palace
Ptolemy and Caesar meet. Hail Caesar you’re doing pretty good says Ptolemy. Not doing so badly yourself says Caesar but that Pompey’s head was a nasty trick. Thanks a lot says Ptolemy these guys will see you into another room. Does he think I’m stoopid thinks Caesar. Exits with his own posse. Enter Cornelia and Sextus. You cut off my Dad’s head you weasel you I challenge you to a duel shouts the silly Sextus. Lock him up lads says Ptolemy and put the woman on to cleaning the harem loos. Exits. The frightful Achillas says to Cornelia if you will give me a nice time I’ll let you both escape. Faugh! says Cornelia. Goodbye Sextus I’m off to the loos.

Act II Sc 1  A grove of cedars with Mount Parnassus in the distance
Caesar coming? Cleopatra asks Nirenus. Yes says he. All stage effects ready and working? Yes says he. OK says she after the pantomime take him to my apartment and say Lydia is coming to see him with some big news. Exits. Caesar arrives sweating (Parnassus a long hike from Alexandria). Where’s that girl? he asks. Coming shortly says Nirenus. A heavenly orchestra plays. The clouds open revealing Cleopatra sitting on a throne dressed as Queen Victoria. My God what a beauty shouts Caesar: she looks like Lydia. He starts clambering up Mount Parnassus. The vision vanishes. Like to go to Lydia’s place Caesar? says Nirenus nudge nudge. You bet says Caesar.
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Act II Sc 2  The garden of the harem
God how I hate this job says Cornelia. You only have to say the word says lecherous Achillas and I’ll let you go free. Faugh! says Cornelia and runs for it but Ptolemy interposes. Lemme go shrieks Cornelia. Did you make it with her Achillas old boy? asks Ptolemy. No but I’ve got everything fixed for Caesar’s exit says Achillas behind his hand to Ptolemy and exits. If you don’t fancy Achillas says Ptolemy to Cornelia how about me? I’m a king. And I’m a Roman woman says Cornelia, faugh! and exits. Pity she won’t go quietly. I shall have to rape her what a nuisance says Ptolemy. Exits. Cornelia re-enters. Am I fed up with these sex-mad Egyptians she says I think I’ll end it all. She prepares to jump into a conveniently adjacent cageful of lions. Stop stop shouts Sextus running on: I’ve come to rescue you Mummy. Enter Nirenus. Ptolemy wants you in his bedroom line-up with the other girls on duty tonight says he but don’t worry we’ll all three go along there and wait until Ptolemy has his trousers down then Sextus here can stab him to death and no sweat. Good idea says Cornelia. I’ll make a good stab at it says Sextus.

Act II Sc 3  Cleopatra’s garden
I guess I’ll pretend to be asleep when Caesar comes says Cleopatra. He comes. There’s Lydia asleep he says: I’d like her to be my wife one day. Accepted says Cleopatra promptly waking up. Thanks. Steady: Cleopatra might not like it says Caesar. Curius runs in: you’ve been betrayed again Caesar Ptolemy’s on your trail. Don’t go Caesar says Cleopatra. By the way I am not Lydia I’m Cleopatra. Gracious me says Caesar. I’ll see off any traitors that come after you she says strolling to the wings. I’m Queen you know. Oh no! My God! There are millions of Ptolemy’s men. Run Caesar! Run! I’ll stand my ground says Caesar and runs off. Sounds of mayhem. I hope he’s OK says Cleopatra.

Act II Sc 4  A room in the harem
Ptolemy is lining up the girls for the night shift including Cornelia. You’ve drawn the short straw Cornelia he says: you open the batting. No she don’t! shouts Sextus jumping in. But Achillas jumps on Sextus and takes his sword. I got news for you boss he says: Caesar gave us the slip but he jumped off the pier and drowned. Also Curius. Cleopatra’s now mustering Caesar’s troops to march against us. Now can I have a nice time with Cornelia please? No you can’t you randy dog says Ptolemy. I’m off to defeat Cleopatra. Will be back shortly. Well I made a fair bugger of that says Sextus, I think I’ll kill myself. No don’t says Cornelia: follow after Ptolemy and strike him down. Go on. All right I bloody well will says Sextus.

Act III Sc 1  A harbour near Alexandria
Achillas comes on with men at his back. I’m on Cleopatra’s side now and we’ll fix that bastard Ptolemy well and good he says. Exits. A musical battle rages offstage. Enter Ptolemy. I’ve won he says: those first violins did a splendid job and you’re my prisoner now young Cleopatra so there. Things sure are pretty bad says Cleopatra, Caesar dead, me a prisoner, Cornelia and Sextus a busted flush, but even when I am dead I’ll still go after that terrible Ptolemy and haunt the wits out of him. Exits under armed guard.
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Caesar comes on. God that water was cold he says I wonder where that Cleopatra might be? Lot of corpses round here he adds. Nasty smell. Very depressing. Sextus enters on the opposite side of the stage still looking for Ptolemy in his wimpish way. He finds Achillas with a nasty wound. Take these secret operation orders to Dugout 99 says Achillas: there is a platoon of SS guards there who know the secret passage into Ptolemy’s study, rescue Cornelia kill Ptolemy and good luck because I think I’m slipping away. (Dies.) Caesar crosses the stage: Gimme that seal he says. Good Lord it’s the boss says Sextus: we thought you were dead. I was an Olympic standard swimmer you know says Caesar. Come on to the palace men and save the lovely ladies Cleopatra and Cornelia. Exits. Things are looking up says Sextus. He follows Caesar.

Act III Sc 2  Cleopatra’s apartments
Cleopatra is really down. But hark! it’s Caesar at the door. My God it’s a ghost! says Cleopatra but it’s no ghost and some pressing to the breast takes place. Meet you at the port says he. OK don’t fall off the pier again she replies.

Act III Sc 3  Ptolemy’s throne room
Enough of this fooling around Cornelia says Ptolemy: get your toga off. Leave me alone says Cornelia: you can’t rape me: I’m a Roman woman and I happen to have this dagger. She makes to strike: Sextus appears and interposes. Oh let me do it please Mum he says I’m a man you see. He has a swordfight with Ptolemy and kills him. Look! I avenged my Dad Mum says Sextus. You sure have done avenged him says Cornelia good lad.

Act III Sc 4  The harbour at Alexandria
Now we’ve won I can tell you that you all done well says Caesar. My boy Sextus done exceptional says Cornelia killed Ptolemy in the act of raping. Let’s all be friends now. Here Caesar take Pompey’s crown and share certificates. Thanks says Caesar: Cleopatra can have the crown. Now Cleopatra let’s sing a love duet and get the opera off to a really nice finish. They sing accompanied by a chorus of war-weary Egyptians who say that everything is now just absolutely perfect.

LOOK OUT FOR Act I Sc 1
MINUTES FROM THE START

0 5: 11: 16: 23:

Presti omai l’egizia terra* Empio, dirò, tu sei** Priva son d’ogni conforto* Svegliatevi nel core*

The overture. In the style of the day it has a stiff and0 slow first section (repeated), a fast middle then, when you expect a return to the slow it runs straight into the opera. The fast section is exceptionally merry and bright.
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    After a respectful but not very enthusiastic welcome from the assembled Egyptians we have a short, fast and firm opening aria5 from Caesar. Let’s see what you fellows can do, says he, in the matter of honouring a conquering hero like me.     Caesar is outraged by the sight of Pompey’s head served up on a plate. This is a ‘rage’ aria11 with the fiddles flashing with anger. Indeed for much of the time it is a two-part piece — violins and voice. A good tune and some breathtaking runs.     Cornelia, calm in her sorrow, has a quietly beautiful aria.16 Seven minutes of Handel in his Largo gear, but this number, good though it is, will never make the top ten.     Sextus in fiery mood is determined to get his own back on the horrible Egyptians. A fast and furious revenge aria23 with a slow middle bit when the ghost of his father tells him he really must get in there and do some good avenging.

Act I Sc 2
MINUTES FROM THE START

30: Non disperar, chi sa?* 35: L’empio, sleale, indegno*
Cleopatra rather cheekily wishes Ptolemy as much good luck as king as he has had with women. Apparently he has a tremendous sexual reputation. A flighty piece,30 fast, fleeting and agreeable with a more lyrical middle bit which has longer and smoother phrases.     Ptolemy sings a petulant little war song.35 He’s out to get Caesar, no doubt about that, but Handel makes him sound like a puppy barking at a Great Dane. TUM-TI goes the very firm rhythm and TI-TUM-TI again.

Act I Sc 3
MINUTES FROM THE START

40: 45: 50: 61: 68:

Alma del gran Pompeo* Non è sì vago* Tutto può donna vezzosa* Car a speme, questo core* Tu la rnia Stella set

Caesar recalls Pompey’s greatness as he gazes at the ashes of his head in a noble accompagnato.40 Impressive.     Caesar is struck all of a heap by Cleopatra’s beauty45 (in disguise as Lydia). She is more beautiful than the flowers of the field. A free-ranging melody over a steady walking bass. This is no passionate outburst, indeed Caesar’s reaction to this knockout beauty is a bit staid.     Naughty Cleopatra instantly sees a chance of using her sexual powers to get Caesar to do down brother Ptolemy. A pert and confident aria50 backed by the violins swinging up and down an arpeggio figure like crazy.     After a bout of arioso gloom from Cornelia as she gazes at Pompey’s tombstone, Sextus tells us he is determined to avenge his father Pompey. This is an odd number.61 A solo cello gives out what sounds like the subject for a fugue, Sextus enters and we have what is almost a canon. The two of them swarm along together, one always a step or two behind the other. As a piece it works well but it does not sound as if Sextus had much stomach for revenge.

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    Another perky aria68 from the unquenchably optimistic Cleopatra. She hopes her lucky star will assist her in all the mayhem and skulduggery she so cheerfully plans to inflict on her brother Ptolemy. This number is a cut above the general run, its spirits are so high.

Act I Sc 4
MINUTES FROM THE START

77: Va tacito e nascosto* 83: Tu set il cor* 88: Son nata a lagrimar**
So now we have the tramp tramp of a march rhythm and a horn, first with the tune and then floating around with scoops and scallops.77 Caesar thinks Ptolemy is a tricky fellow. A whiff of Onward Christian Soldiers in the air.     A stern love song from Achillas.83 Blackmail really. Marry me or else be condemned to pick flowers in the garden of the harem for ever. A muscular tune, vigorous, with vicious little stings from the violins. Does not endear Achillas to the listener one bit.     Cornelia and Sextus have to part and this gives rise to this lovely duet.88 The opening symphony sets the tone of yearning sadness. The way the two female voices (Sextus is still very young) echo each other’s phrases and then come together is wonderfully effective. So nice to hear two voices in an aria and it is really a shame that owing to the conventions of opera seria we have no ensembles: Handel could have served them up a treat.

Act II Sc 1
MINUTES FROM THE START

5: V’adoro, pupille** 11: Se infiorito ameno prato*
As Caesar waits for Lydia (Cleopatra of course) he hears ‘harmonious sounds from the spheres’. But not so very harmonious to our ears, the Parnassian onstage combo is sonorous but thickish. Then Cleopatra/Lydia/Goddess of Virtue takes up the refrain and turns it into a ravishing aria,5 clear, simple and direct. Caesar interjects an ‘O My!’. Cleopatra continues. The middle bit of her piece is particularly fetching.     It’s not often that an Emperor has a duet with a bird,11 but that is what we have here. The bird is represented by a solo violin — Caesar plays himself — and both tell us that Lydia can brighten the scene by being a sort of bluebird of happiness. The bird can sing in both the major and minor modes and has some nice little cadenzas. A curio.

Act II Sc 2
MINUTES FROM THE START

19: 24: 28: 33: 37:

Deh piangete, O mesti lumi* Se a me non sei crudele* Sì spietata, il tuo rigore** Cessa omai di sospirare!* L’angue offeso mai riposa*

Cornelia is very sad amongst the flowers in the harem. Her short but touching lament19 is one of those tunes that lives on in the ear.
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    Achillas tells Cornelia if you let me love you everything will be OK but if not — look out! A brisk and tuneful number24 with a precise accompaniment which has a mind of its own: it starts in unison and runs throughout like clockwork.     Ptolemy is really upset at being spurned by Cornelia. In one of the most tuneful and forceful arias28 of the opera he gets thoroughly spiteful with venomous little twirls to tell us what a nasty man he is.     Cornelia faces the prospect of Ptolemy being murdered with some satisfaction.33 A curiously halting and indeterminate piece for such a strong resolve.     Sextus shows his determination to slay Ptolemy. This number37 has a firm walking bass which marches on relentlessly beneath the fine phrases of Sextus’s vocal line.

Act II Sc 3
MINUTES FROM THE START

43: 51: 54: 56:

Venere bella* Al lampo dell’armi** Che sento? Oh Dio!** Se pietà di me non senti***

A prayer to Venus.43 Cleopatra wishes to look exceptionally seductive. The middle section has some adventurous passages which contrast happily with the formality of the opening strain, which is repeated quite often enough for comfort.     Well, not quite a patter song,51 but rapid fire indeed from Caesar as he hypes himself up for the encounter with the conspirators. Speed, bustle and a bass that races rather than walks. An oddball and a winner. Ends with shouts from the conspirators in the wings.     And now the opera moves on to a higher plane. Cleopatra’s accompagnato54 is suddenly dramatic and full of real feeling, especially when she so sweetly begs the gods to protect her lovely Caesar. Then, as soon as we hear the symphony before her aria, we know we are to have one of those serene and beautiful arias56 which were Handel’s greatest gift to opera. Partly because the style of the accompaniment falls more gratefully upon our ears today than the frenzied figuration of the faster numbers, partly because of the sheer magic of the melodic line, this aria strikes home with all its power, just as no doubt it did in Drury Lane two and a half centuries ago. Look out especially for one high note which is not at all the one you expect.

Act II Sc 4
MINUTES FROM THE START

64: Belle dee di questo core* 70: L’aura che spira*
A fidgety little figure introduces a sort of accompagnato from Ptolemy64 who is once again making a pass at Cornelia. It fidgets on as Ptolemy climbs into something approaching aria and then relapses into secco as he gets serious about sex with Cornelia. But enter Sextus!     A bold and fierce aria70 from Sextus who is once again hyping himself up to kill Ptolemy. The middle section, as is often the case, has some agreeable free-ranging ideas, for the rest the aria is satisfactory enough within the strait jacket of its precise measures, but scarcely big enough to end an act.

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Act III Sc 1
MINUTES FROM THE START

2: Dal fulgor di questa spada* 5 6: Domerò la tua fierezza*

Another hype-up to mayhem, this time by Achillas. Good vigorous standard stuff2 with a strong finishing burst.     The battle! A stirring symphony full of fight and5 fury. Ptolemy does not care for his sister and proposes to humiliate her in another vicious little aria6 with sprigs of malice thrown out by the violins in abundance. Another good standard piece.

Act III Sc 2
MINUTES FROM THE START

11: Piangerò*** 19: Aure, deh, per pietà* 29: Quel torrente che cade*
Another great aria from the desolate Cleopatra.11 First the sad and slow ‘Piangerò’ — I shall weep — she is desolate and tells us so in the most lovely sorrowful phrases. Then her spirit flares up and she swears her ghost will give Ptolemy a hard time after she is dead. Fast and furious. So back to the sad ‘Piangerò’ and a dying fall.     Caesar, having swum the harbour, is not well placed. He has no troops and spends the next few minutes bemoaning the fact, first in an accompagnato then in a long and rather dismal but effective aria.19 It has a slightly more sparky middle section when his thoughts turn to Cleopatra.     A much more cheerful Caesar thinks he is going to win every battle. The opening symphony tells us he has got his bottle back and he carols away29 with a clear tune and some real breathtesters towards the end. A good number.

Act III Sc 3
MINUTES FROM THE START

34: La giustizia ha già sull’arco* 41: Da tempeste il legno infranto** 50: Nort ha puì che temere*
Another upbeat item,34 this time from Sextus who is out to get Ptolemy. This strain of warlike hype (of which we have had quite a lot) is generally based on quick tempo, a firm vocal line and a lot of running around by the violins, which here are exceptionally active. Again a good standard piece.     After some dramatic accompagnato as Cleopatra’s sad thoughts accompanied by a solo oboe are interrupted by the sound of battle (fizzing strings), Caesar appears. Rescued! She sings a really happy little number41 with chortling trills and bubbling runs. Hooray! And quite a long Hooray! it is.     Cornelia immensely cheered up by the death of Ptolemy sings a sweet and swinging number50 to celebrate her release. It has the usual clear top and bottom lines with the violins doubling the voice part more than usual (except in the middle bit): this gives it a strong forward impetus.
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Act III Sc 4
MINUTES FROM THE START

53* 59: Caro, Bella** 64: Ritorni omai*

The celebratory symphony.53 A noisy affair with the pairs of trumpets and horns extremely active. Interesting rather than beautiful and as explosive as a fireworks display.     The Love Duet.59 Opening with each lover enunciating, very slowly, the words ‘Caro’ and ‘Bella’, they both run on into a rumpty-tumpty tune, which stretches into a more measured and loverly middle section. Then we go back to a longer and dreamier ‘Caro’ and ‘Bella’ — a great stroke. Followed by rumpty with some lovely decoration.     Finale.64 The grossly underworked chorus have a suitably celebratory salute to the lovers and then we swing into a concertante section, Cleopatra and Caesar singing in duet. After the formality of the choral writing, this is a delight and ends the opera with a fresh, light touch. Everybody happy.

NOTES Giulio Cesare    
First night Reception Libretto Source Handel’s seventeenth opera and fifth full-length opera for the Royal Academy of Music King’s Theatre, London, 20 February 1724 A hit Haym based on Bussani Roman history hyped up and reconstructed for the opera stage by a succession of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century scribes

NEWS AND GOSSIP
The Royal Academy of Music was founded in 1719 to put on Italian opera in London and so in many ways was the forerunner of the Royal Opera House. All well brought up young aristos in those days did the Grand Tour and had therefore seen Italian opera on its home ground in Naples, Venice, etc. So the Academy was set up as a joint stock company by the gentry for their pleasure. To their subscriptions the monarch added an annual grant of £1000 (rather nicely called a ‘bounty’) and it would be interesting to know how this compares with the level of subsidy granted to the Royal Opera House today in real terms (which by the time they have been pushed around by statistics are nearly always pretty unreal terms anyway). Handel was one of the composers on the Academy’s books, as was his big rival Bononcini. But in those days composers were not thought of as creative artists whose work was holy and immutable. They had to do what best suited the really important people, the singers, who then, as now, brought in the money at the box office. Giulio Cesare was a big success for the Academy and ran for thirteen performances, apparently well above average. It had a few performances in Germany in the next ten years or so and after that it lay on the shelf for pretty well two hundred years until revived in (of all places) Gottingen in 1922. Early operas with their primitive scoring offer a huge temptation to arrangers to arrange them to such a degree that there is not
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much left of the original piece except the tune (an extreme case — the Beggar’s Opera, roughly contemporary with Giulio Cesare, and see what Frederic Austin did with it on the one hand and Benjamin Britten on the other). So poor old Giulio was mauled about considerably during the early years of the Handel revival and only when we all had to be frightfully authentic did it return to something nearer to the form in which Handel wrote it. This happened fairly recently with a production in Birmingham in 1977 and was reinforced by the ENO production of 1980. This was an enormous hit, and at the time of writing still runs.

COMMENT
Giulio Cesare is not an opera to set the pulse racing. Indeed, the word opera today as commonly used only just stretches back to cover the staid spectacle and disciplined sound of opera seria. There are no Valkyries, Bohemians, Pavarottis, and not a single trombone. And yet, and yet, within its smaller scale passions do rage, tears are shed and lovers do swear undying love. Not much of this emotion comes through to us from Giulio’s highly formalized music. The rage arias don’t affect us personally as does the rage of the Count in Figaro. What we hear is a nice lively aria in the convention of rage music. The battle music is remote and a little ludicrous, rather like the battles on the Bayeux tapestry, where angular cardboard men strive to kill each other with toy swords. All rejoicing, especially choral rejoicing, sounds much the same. But there are emotions that can still strike true through the conventions of the day and they are mainly the emotions of courage, joy and sorrow. Sorrow, always one of Handel’s strongest suits, is an easy winner in Giulio. Cleopatra has the best music throughout but her two great arias of sorrow, ‘Se pietà di me non senti’ and ‘Piangerò’, reach out through the centuries and can affect us afresh with the nobility of her grief. Her perky numbers have verve and excitement, her seductive music is less persuasive. But quite aside from the music as a conduit for emotion, there is another pleasure in Giulio and that is in the music itself, as ‘absolute’ music. Many of the three dozen or so numbers in Giulio could be changed around and no one would notice much [and no doubt many were: Ed.]. Nearly all have a strong bass line and a strong top line with not a lot between. Many share the same mood; the decorations are different, the tunes are different, but to a normally musical person on the Clapham omnibus they are pretty well indistinguishable. Yet if you hear them over and over they begin to grow on you. Soon you will give in to the subtlety and charm of Handel’s art and may, unless you are careful, become a Handel addict, and from there it is a short run to becoming a Handel bore. Although the numbers are by no means all similar, their quality is pretty even. Once you have taken out the three or four greatest hits nearly every other item gets one star. The accompagnatos are effective in raising the dramatic temperature and giving a springboard for the oncoming aria and the secco recitatif is a joy throughout. Handel took greater pains over his secco passages than did most eighteenth-century composers, including Mozart, who was happy to leave the secco recitatif to his assistant. Many of the big dramatic moments — the presentation of Pompey’s head, Cornelia’s several suicide attempts, Lydia’s revelation that she is Cleopatra — are covered by secco and Handel doesn’t try to make a big deal out of them. But the secco is always written close to the sense of the text with melody and speech rhythm working together in a pretty miraculous way. All of this can be ruined if the underlying cello line is taken too seriously. Cellists tend to go mad if given a chance and will add their own twiddly bits at the drop of a hat. If there is any cello at all it should be gossamer light in tone.
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The orchestration of the numbers themselves is usually described as sumptuous, though after an earful of Wagner it sounds scrawny and honestly it is hard to brew up much enthusiasm for the sonority of Giulio’s score, which with its four horns, oboes and bassoons, may have been a wonder in its day but has sort of been overtaken by Mahler. The Symphony of Various Instruments performed on stage is an interesting oddity, having a part in it written for the theorbo, a sort of long-necked lute. Giulio Cesare, of all of Handel’s operas, is the most performed today. Of the libretto there is little to say since it is one of those stock constructions loosely based on history which has no credible story and no real dramatic interest. It has four or five of his very best numbers, it is melodious, and musically always very satisfactory, it is amongst all opera seria perhaps the least remote before Gluck began to transform the old thing into something more human. Beta.

Girl of the Golden West, The see Fanciulla del West, La Godunov, Boris see Boris Godunov Gotterdammerung see under Ring, The

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