The opera Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar) by Georg Friedrich Händel takes place in Egypt in the year 48 B.C. and has to do with Caesar’s Egyptian war and his love affair with Cleopatra.
As it was staged at the Opéra Garnier in Paris, however, the opera took place in the storeroom of a museum (I suppose the Louvre), where some of the statues came to life and started re-living their quarrels and love affairs of 2,059 years before. This was not exactly a new idea — I once saw Verdi’s Aida staged this way at the State Theater in Berlin — but I thought it worked very well.
The picture on the cover of the opera program is part of a famous painting called “Cleopatra Testing Poisons on Condemned Prisoners” by Alexandre Cabanel, painted in 1887.
Less than half the painting (around 40 %) appears on the cover. Visible in the original painting, but not here, are two prisoners dying horrible deaths from poisons that are being tried out on them.
The performance I attended was conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm, with the counter-tenor Lawrence Zazzo as Julius Caesar and the soprano Jane Archibald as Cleopatra.
I saw Giulio Cesare from the third level of box seats in the Opéra Garnier. On my ticket for box 18, seat 5, it clearly said “Visibilité réduite” = reduced visibility, and that was certainly true, but there was fortunately no one behind me so I could simply stand up whenever I wished.
The performance of Giulio Cesare was in the original Italian, with French and English surtitles. Even though Händel was originally German and lived most of his adult life in England, his operas were all in Italian, simply because Italian was the main language of opera in those days (just as English is the main language of pop music today).
My photos in this post are from 2011. I revised the text in 2018.
See also: Händel as an opera composer.