THE FLORENTINE OPERA COMPANY (Milwaukee) PRESENTS:
An Empire Rests in the ‘Hands of Love’ in this New Florentine Opera Production
Behold, as the greatest Roman general who has ever lived falls madly in love with the most beautiful and powerful Queen in the history of ancient Egypt. A war between the great nations of Rome and Egypt is eclipsed by the passion of Caesar and Cleopatra in this brand new production of Handel’s most beloved opera. Soprano Ava Pine (Pamina in The Magic Flute 2009, Blanca in Río de Sangre 2010) returns to the Florentine Opera stage as the seductive Cleopatra opposite mezzo-soprano Deanne Meek, making her Florentine debut as Julius Caesar. Mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala (Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro 2013) sings Sextus, and counter-tenor Ian Howell (Cupid/Spirit in Venus & Adonis/Dido & Aeneas 2011) returns with newcomer Derrick Ballard in this production directed by the Metropolitan Opera’s Eric Einhorn (Turandot 2011). Maestro William Boggs (two-time Grammy-winning Elmer Gantry 2010) conducts the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in this new Florentine Opera production featuring sets and lighting by Noele Stollmack with new costume design by Christianne Myers (The Magic Flute 2009, Rigoletto 2010, Venus/Dido 2011).
Sung in Italian with English supertitles projected above the stage
Uihlein Hall, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts
929 N. Water St., Milwaukee, WI
Friday, March 28, 2014 | 7:30pm
Sunday, March 30, 2014 | 2:30pm
Featured artists include:
Ava Pine. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Cleopatra
Deanne Meek . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Caesar*
Eve Gigliotti. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Cornelia*
Adriana Zabala. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Sextus
Ian Howell. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Ptolemy
Derrick Ballard. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Achillas*
Eric Einhorn . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Stage Director
William Boggs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Conductor
Noele Stollmack . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Lighting Designer
Christianne Myers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Costume Designer
(Costume design sponsored by John Shannon and Jan Serr)
Synopsis of Julius Caesar
An opera in three acts by George Frideric Handel set to an Italian libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym
Handel’s Julius Caesar takes place in Egypt in 48 B.C.
After defeating Pompeo’s forces, Julius Caesar’s political rival and ex-son-in-law, Caesar and his troops settle victoriously on the banks of the Nile river. Pompeo’s second wife, Cornelia, begs Caesar to have mercy upon her husband. He will only show mercy if Pompeo asks for it in person. A few moments later, Achillas, leader of the Egyptian military brings Caesar a casket containing the head of Pompeo, presented as a gift from Ptolemy. Ptolemy and his sister, Cleopatra chose to rule Egypt together. Upset by the gesture, Caesar takes leave to reproach Ptolemy. After Cornelia faints, Caesar’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, Sextus takes revenge into his own hands.
Meanwhile, Cleopatra has come to learn that Ptolemy devised plans to murder Pompeo only to gain favor with Caesar. Realizing what she must do, she decides to win favor from the Roman conquerer by her own means. Achillas brings Ptolemy the news that Caesar was unhappy with Pompeo’s death, and offers to kill Caesar himself should he be given Cornelia’s hand in marriage. Ptolemy relishes the thought of no longer having to deal with Caesar, and agrees to Achillas’ terms.
Disguised as “Lidia”, Cleopatra enters into Caesar’s camp. She meets with Caesar, who is distracted by her beauty, and divulges the hardships she has faced. They are interrupted by the grieving Cornelia searching for her husband’s sword. Sextus isn’t far behind to stop her, and he vows to avenge his father’s death. “Lidia” offers guidance to reach Ptolemy, and Caesar, Sextus, and Cornelia leave to find him.
Caesar enters Ptolemy’s palace, suspecting something may happen. When Ptolemy sees Cornelia, he immediately falls in love with her, but gives the impression to Achillas that he will still give her to him. Sextus challenges Ptolemy, but loses, and Cornelia rejects Achillas’ advances. Burned by her emotions, Achillas calls in his soldiers to arrest Sextus.
Caesar has come to Cleopatra’s palace in search of “Lidia.” Cleopatra instructs her advisor to lead Caesar into her room. She begins singing music of love and cupid’s arrows as Caesar draws nearer to her bedroom doors. He is captivated once more by her beauty.
In Ptolemy’s palace, Achillas tries desperately (and unsuccessfully) to win Cornelia’s affections. She turns her head from him in scorn. After the dejected Achillas leaves, Ptolemy takes his turn to win her over, but is met with the same harsh feelings. Sextus arrives hell-bent on killing Ptolemy.
Back in Cleopatra’s bedroom, her tryst with Caesar is interrupted when they hear conspirators approaching. She reveals her true identity to him and offers to help him escape. Instead, he chooses to stay and fight.
Ptolemy sits among his harem of women, including Cornelia, when Sextus bursts into the room, charging the king. Achillas quickly tackles him to the floor and announces that his troops have just attacked Caesar. Having cornered him within the palace, the troops forced him to jump out the window into the billowing sea, where he surely died. Achillas then demands that Ptolemy give Cornelia to him, but Ptolemy refuses. Overcome with grief, Sextus 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.
Ptolemy and Cleopatra have taken up arms against each other. As their own armies battle for dominance, Caesar, who survived his fall, prays for Cleopatra’s victory. However, Ptolemy triumphs over Cleopatra, and he orders his men to escort her out of the palace in chains. Sextus, on his way to kill Ptolemy, stumbles upon a wounded Achillas. Having been betrayed by Ptolemy, who has kidnapped Cornelia, Achillas hands Sextus a sigil that gives him full command of his troops stationed in a nearby cave. Sextus takes the sigil and Achillas dies. Caesar arrives moments later and asks Sextus to let him take the sigil and control the army, “For if he cannot save both Cornelia and Cleopatra, he will die trying”. Sextus relinquishes the sigil and Caesar quickly departs.
Cleopatra sits in a small cell within a camp of Ptolemy’s troops, and prays for Caesar. She is astonished when she spots him leading an army into the camp. After rescuing her, the lovers embrace before setting out to Ptolemy’s palace. Sextus arrives at the palace first and finds Ptolemy courting his mother again. This time, however, Sextus is able to kill Ptolemy.
When Caesar and Cleopatra enter Alexandria, they are greeted by cheers and adoration. Cornelia presents tokens of Ptolemy’s death to Caesar, 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 new found peace.
Synopsis compiled from historical performance info and various references by the Florentine Opera Company ©2013
George Frideric Handel
(February 23, 1685- April 14, 1759)
Although known as an English composer, Handel was born Georg Friederich Händel in Halle Germany, the son of a barber-surgeon who desired him to study law. At first, he was forced to practice music in secret, but eventually, his father was encouraged to allow him to study, and he became a pupil of the principal organist in Halle. When he was 17, he was appointed as an organist of the Calvinist Cathedral, but a year later he left for Hamburg. There he played the violin and harpsichord in the opera house, where his Almira was given at the beginning of 1705, soon followed by his Nero. The next year, he accepted an invitation to Italy, where he spent more than three years in Florence, Rome, Naples and Venice. He had operas or other dramatic works given in all these cities, in addition to writing many Italian cantatas. During this time, he also perfected his technique in setting Italian words for the human voice. In Rome, he also composed some Latin church music.
He left Italy early in 1710 and went to Hanover, where he was appointed Kapellmeister to the elector. Soon, he took his leave to accept an invitation to London, where his opera Rinaldo was produced early in 1711. Back in Hanover, he applied for a second leave and returned to London in autumn 1712. Four more operas followed in 1712-15, with mixed success. He also wrote music for the church and for court and was awarded a royal pension. In 1717, he entered the service of the Earl of Carnarvon (soon to be Duke of Chandos) at Edgware, near London, where he wrote 11 anthems and two dramatic works, the evergreen Acis and Galatea and Esther, for the modest band of singers and players retained there.
In 1718-19 a group of noblemen tried to put Italian opera in London on a firmer footing, and launched a company with royal patronage, the Royal Academy of Music; Handel, appointed musical director, went to Germany, visiting Dresden and recruiting several singers for the Academy, which opened in April 1720. Handel’s Radamisto was the second opera and it inaugurated a noble series over the ensuing years including Ottone, Giulio Cesare, Rodelinda, Tamerlano and Admeto. Unfortunately, public support was variable and the financial basis insecure, and in 1728 the venture collapsed. In the midst of the Royal Academy of Music’s run, Handel had taken British naturalization in 1724.
Opera remained his central interest, and with the Academy impresario, Heidegger, he hired the King’s Theatre and embarked on a five-year series of seasons starting in late 1729. Success was mixed. In 1732 Esther was given at a London musical society by friends of Handel’s, then by a rival group in public; Handel prepared to put it on at the King’s Theatre, but the Bishop of London banned a stage version of a biblical work. He then put on Acis, also in response to a rival venture. The next summer he was invited to Oxford and wrote an oratorio, Athalia, for performance at the Sheldonian Theatre. Meanwhile, a second opera company (‘Opera of the Nobility’, including Senesino) had been set up in competition with Handel’s and the two competed for audiences over the next four seasons before both failed. This period drew from Handel, however, such operas as Orlando and two with ballet, Ariodante and Alcina, among his finest scores.
During the rest of the 1730s, Handel moved between Italian opera and the English forms, unsure of his future commercially and artistically. After a journey to Dublin in 1741-2, where Messiah had its première in aid of charities, he put opera behind him and for most of the remainder of his life gave oratorio performances, mostly at the new Covent Garden theatre, usually at or close to the Lent season. The Old Testament provided the basis for most of them (Samson, Belshazzar, Joseph, Joshua, Solomon, for example), but he sometimes experimented, turning to classical mythology (Semele, Hercules) or Christian history (Theodora), with little public success. All these works, along with such earlier ones as Acis and his two Cecilian odes (to Dryden words), were performed in concert form in English. At these performances he usually played in the interval a concerto on the organ (a newly invented musical genre) or directed a concerto grosso (his op.6, a set of 12, published in 1740, represents his finest achievement in the form).
During his last decade he gave regular performances of Messiah, usually with about 16 singers and an orchestra of about 40, in aid of the Foundling Hospital. In 1749 he wrote a suite for wind instruments with optional strings for performance in Green Park to accompany the Royal Fireworks celebrating the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle. His last oratorio, composed as he grew blind, was Jephtha (1752); The Triumph of Time and Truth (1757) is largely composed of earlier material.
Handel was very economical in the re-use of his ideas; at many times in his life he also drew heavily on the music of others (though generally avoiding detection) – such ‘borrowings’ may be of anything from a brief motif to entire movements, sometimes as they stood but more often accommodated to his own style.
Handel died in 1759 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, recognized in England and by many in Germany as the greatest composer of his day. The wide range of expression at his command is shown not only in the operas, with their rich and varied arias, but also in the form he created, the English oratorio, where it is applied to the fates of nations as well as individuals. He had a vivid sense of drama. But above all he had a resource and originality of invention, to be seen in the extraordinary variety of music in the op.6 concertos, for example, in which melodic beauty, boldness and humour all play a part, that place him and J.S. Bach as the supreme masters of the Baroque era in music.