Georg Friedrich Händel
Nicola Francesco Haym
In the war for the control of Rome Caesar has pursued his political opponent Pompey to Egypt. After being defeated by Caesar's troops at the battle of Pharsalus (48 B.C.), Pompey had tried unsuccessfully to find an ally in the Egyptian king Ptolemy.
The victorious general Julius Caesar is welcomed with jubilation. He accords Cornelia, Pompey's wife, and their son Sextus, his respect, and is prepared to make peace with his opponent.
In order to win Caesar's favour, the Egyptian king Ptolemy sends his general Achillas to present Caesar with the head of Pompey who has been murdered. Caesar is outraged by this deed.
Cornelia laments the death of her husband; Sextus swears to avenge his father's murder.
Cleopatra, Ptolemy's sister, as first-born child considers herself to be the legitimate ruler of Egypt. She is intent on winning Caesar's affections in order to gain the throne.
Achillas tells Ptolemy of Caesar's anger over Pompey's murder. He is prepared to murder Caesar as well on condition that he be allowed to wed Cornelia. Ptolemy agrees to the bargain.
Prompted by Pompey's death, Caesar reflects on the pointlessness of life and fame. At this moment Cleopatra appears. She pretends to be Lidia, one of Cleopatra's servants, and asks Caesar for support against Ptolemy. Caesar is fascinated by her and promises help.
Cornelia is mourning the loss of her husband. Sextus wrests from her the sword with which she intends to kill Ptolemy. He considers this act of vengeance to be his right alone. Cleopatra has overheard their plans and promises to help them gain entry into the palace.
Caesar meets Ptolemy. He reproaches the Egyptian for the murder of Pompey. Although Ptolemy appears to be hospitable, Caesar senses danger and withdraws. Accompanied by his mother, Sextus has entered the palace and challenges Ptolemy to a duel, which the latter refuses to accept. Instead he condemns Cornelia to serve in his harem. Achillas promises her and her son freedom if she agrees to become his wife. Both indignantly reject this offer. Lamenting their fate, they part.
Cleopatra has instructed her confidant Nirenus to bring Caesar to her chambers, where she receives him, still in the guise of Lidia.
Caesar appears and is overwhelmed by her beauty.
Achillas asks Cornelia once again for her hand, but is rejected.
Ptolemy is also enchanted by Cornelia's beauty and desires to marry her. When she indignantly repudiates her husband's murderer, he threatens to use force. Cornelia is on the point of ending her own life, but Sextus holds her back. Nirenus promises Sextus that he will bring him to Ptolemy. Sextus again swears to avenge his father's murder.
Cleopatra is expecting Caesar; she asks the goddess of love to help her seduce him. Caesar promses Cleopatra marriage.
At this moment Curio enters to warn Caesar of murderers that Ptolemy has dispatched. Cleopatra reveals her true identity to Caesar and offers him protection. Caesar, however, is undaunted and departs to do battle, leaving Cleopatra distraught and fearing for the life of her beloved.
In the battle between Cleapatra's troops and those of Ptolemy, the latter are victorious. He has his sister taken prisoner. Cleopatra laments her fate and curses her brother.
Caesar has managed to escape drowning at sea and hopes that he can once again turn fate to his own advantage.
Sextus has been unable to find Ptolemy on the battlefield. He and Nirenus discover Achillas mortally wounded. He admits to having instigated Pompey's murder in order to win Cornelia, to have planned the plot against Caesar, and to have betrayed Ptolemy, by whom he believes to have been deceived. For this he must now pay the price of death. As he dies, he gives Sextus a seal. Whoever possesses the seal can command one hundred armed men who are concealed nearby. Caesar, who has been listening to the conversation, demands that he be given the seal and departs with Sextus in order to liberate Cleopatra and Cornelia.
The captive Cleopatra is expecting to be killed and bids farewell to her companions. Caesar frees her.
Ptolemy tries once again to force his attentions on Cornelia. As she draws a sword against him, Sextus steps between them. He throws himself on Ptolemy and kills him. His father has finally been avenged.
Caesar embraces Sextus as a friend and declares Cleopatra Queen of Egypt.
Translation: Christopher Balme
© Bavarian State Opera