The most famous opera composed by Handel, Giulio Cesare, presented by the English National Opera in a 1984 production, with opera stars Dame Janet Baker and Valerie Masterson in a somptuous staging.
In 48 a.C., just after he won his battle against Pompey the Great, Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar) is about to restore the peace with his ennemy. However Tolomeo (Ptolemy) brings him on a tray Pompeo's head as a gift... Horrified, the young Sextus, son of Pompeo and Cornelia, swears he would revenge his father's death, at the same time a terrible fight for power begins between Ptolemy and her sister Cleopatra who share the Egyptian throne. Cleopatra tries to seduce Caesar in order to forestall Ptolemy. Defeated a first time by her brother, she is rescued by Caesar with whom she falls in love. Sextus finally manages to revenge his father in killing Ptolemy, as for Caesar and Cleopatra, they sing their love and receive Ptolemy's royal insignas.
Dame Janet Baker, who plays Giulio Cesare, gives a highly dramatic performance of this role, with her mezzo-soprano sensual and a deep voice. Valerie Masterson, who perfectly masters the trills, makes a deeply moving performance of a passionate Cleopatra, as for Della Jones, one of the most sought-after mezzo-soprano of her generation, remarkably performs a tormented Sextus, determined to get his revenge.
The staging is rather traditional, but the gorgeous costumes and the scenery are marked by a subtile mix between antique and baroque styles. It leads us in ancient Egypt but still keeps a baroque delicacy that reminds us of the context in which Handel composed this opera, premiered at the King's théâtre Haymarket in London in 1724.