Two major adaptions of the legend of Julius Caesar have been put on stage. One being Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and the other being Handel’s Giulio Cesare, which will open at the Metropolitan Opera on April 4. Surprisingly, the opera, which was written 125 years later, is not based on Shakespeare’s play. The opera takes place in Egypt and focuses on the relationship between Caesar and Cleopatra, while the play focuses on the death of Caesar and the conspiracy to kill him.
The characters in both the play and the opera are completely different. Julius Caesar is the only common character to both, but he is completely different in the two interpretations. In the Shakespeare play, Caesar is positively despised by the conspirators for several reasons, including that he killed a fellow member of the First Triumvirate: Pompey. Brutus, Cassius, and others all plan a conspiracy to kill Caesar and protect Rome, and end up successful in Act III. The goal of the conspirators was to keep Rome protected from the wrath of Caesar.
The Shakespeare play also focuses much more on Brutus than Caesar, who dies in Act III. Brutus is already a friend to the Roman people due to his father’s history as a leader and military figure, and he is protective of them. At first, Brutus is hesitant about the idea of killing an authority figure like Caesar, but is drawn into it by Cassius. After killing Caesar however, Brutus justifies the situation for the Roman crowd, telling them that he was protecting Rome and the free lives of the people. Brutus knew that Caesar would put the Roman people in chains, and that he was a terrible man.
The opera focuses on a different perspective of Julius Caesar’s life: His relationship with the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra. This relationship takes place earlier than Shakespeare’s perspective of Caesar. Cleopatra is really married to her brother Tolomeo, but he is not the nicest guy on Earth. Almost everyone is upset with him for approving the killing of Pompey by Cesare, and also for seducing and forcing himself on Cornelia, the widow of Pompey. Tolomeo actually ends up being the most hated character in the play rather than Cesare. He is killed by Sesto and everyone celebrates. Cesare proclaims Cleopatra as the Queen of Egypt and promises to give patronage to Egypt and spread that in Rome as well. Everyone loves Cesare!
To conclude, the only real similarities that Julius Caesar and Giulio Cesare share are that Pompey is killed and the other characters wish to have him avenged, and that Caesar will rule Rome. The two adaptions are almost completely different.
Giulio Cesare premieres at the Met on April 4 in David McVicar’s beautiful production. It will include David Daniels as Cesare, Natalie Dessay as Cleopatra, Alice Coote as Sesto, and Patricia Bardon as Cornelia, with Harry Bicket conducting. Get tickets now!
PS: My mom will also be featured again onstage and in costume, playing onstage in the Act II banda that welcomes Cleopatra. She is very much looking forward to it after her experience playing onstage in Francesca da Rimini.
Here is a photo of my mom in her Giulio Cesare costume (She gets to change in the solo artist dressing rooms!):