Georg Friedrich Händel launched a veritable musical firework with his successful opera »Giulio Cesare in Egitto«, composed in 1724 for the Royal Academy of Music in London. In this work he created the epitome of a baroque operatic hero, while the narrative is propelled forward by lashings of love and passion, intrigue and conspiracy, betrayal and murder. The plot revolves around two of the most important figures of antiquity, Caesar and Cleopatra. When Caesar invades Egypt on a campaign against Tolomeo, Cleopatra, the latter’s sister, senses an opportunity to grab power for herself. She arrives in the camp of the Roman commander, who immediately succumbs to her beauty – and is all too willing to accept her conniving assistance in the battle for power. Together with set designer Mathis Neidhart, director Jens-Daniel Herzog has updated the events to colonial-era Egypt, telling the story of frenzied passions, death, assassination and love with a great deal of wit and double entendre.
Returning victorious from the battle at Pharsalus, Julius Caesar chases Pompey, his rival in the Roman Republic’s civil war, and follows him to Egypt.
Arriving on Egyptian soil, the Roman general is hailed as Pompey’s vanquisher. Cornelia, Pompey’s wife, and their son Sesto beg for peace and Caesar’s clemency which Caesar is willing to grant. Caesar is horrified when Achilla, envoy of Ptolemy, King of Egypt, presents him with Pompey's severed head. Caesar swears to punish this atrocity. Cornelia laments the death of her husband, and her son Sesto swears revenge for the death of his father. Cleopatra is in dispute with her brother Ptolemy over the Egyptian throne. She develops a plan with her confidant Nireno to seduce Caesar and use his help to depose Ptolemy as King. Achilla reports Caesar’s wrath to Ptolemy and offers to kill the Roman Emperor in return for Cornelia's hand. Contemplating Pompey’s funeral urn, Caesar reflects on the irrelevance of earthly glory. Cleopatra presents herself to Caesar disguised as Lydia. She asks him for his support against Ptolemy. Caesar is immediately enchanted by her beauty. He promises to help. In Sesto and his mother Cornelia, Cleopatra finds allies for her plan to destroy Ptolemy. Ptolemy receives Caesar with treacherous friendliness. In their verbal exchange, the Roman shows his superiority.Cornelia’s and Sesto’s planned attack on Ptolemy at his royal palace is thwarted by Achilla who desires and harasses Cornelia. As prisoners, mother and son lament their fate.
Using all her powers of persuasiveness, Cleopatra alias Lydia wins Caesar over completely. Ptolemy too clearly desires his prisoner Cornelia. When she spurns him, he threatens her with violence. No sooner said, Nireno arrives with the news that he is to take Cornelia to Ptolemy’s harem. Sesto senses his next chance to take revenge on the Egyptian tyrant. A romantic encounter between Caesar and Cleopatra is suddenly interrupted when Curio, Caesar’s general, bursts onto the scene with the news of a conspiracy against him. Cleopatra, who only now reveals her true identity, urges Caesar to flee but Caesar sets out to fight the conspirators. Cleopatra stays behind in despair.
After a new attempt on Ptolemy’s life – this time in the harem – once again fails, Achilla announces Caesar’s death in the presence of the assassins. Achilla now demands Cornelia’s hand as the payment bargained but Ptolemy orders him away as a traitor. Cornelia and Sesto recognise the hopelessness of their situation but swear once more to take revenge on Ptolemy.
Achilla is insulted by the Egyptian King breaking his promise to give him Cornelia’s hand in marriage. He decides to change sides and join Cleopatra and her followers. Cleopatra is in the midst of a civil war against her brother’s troops. Ptolemy succeeds in capturing his sister. A solitary figure in despair, she remains behind. Caesar, believed dead, unexpectedly returns and promises to save Cleopatra, Cornelia and Sesto. Carrying the seal of the mortally wounded Achilla, Caesar takes command of Achilla’s army. He also succeeds in freeing Cleopatra and prepares for the final retaliatory attack. Meanwhile, Ptolemy again harasses Cornelia who resists, but help is near and Ptolemy is killed. Victorious, Caesar celebrates with Cleopatra, the new Queen of Egypt.