English Touring Opera has assembled an outstanding cast for this prestige production, dominated by a performance from Soraya Mafi as Cleopatra that verges on the divine. Artistically, it has a worth beyond rubies.
Without a doubt, the show’s star is Soraya Mafi, whose beguiling Cleopatra melts hearts… When Mafi is singing, we get lift off.
Part 1 (original Act I)
Caesar’s forces have defeated those of his Roman rival Pompey, and he claims Egypt. Cornelia pleads with him for peace, and for the life of her husband Pompey – but she
is interrupted by the Egyptian Achilla, ally of Tolomeo. Achilla offers a tribute gift from Tolomeo: the head of Pompey. Caesar scorns Achilla. Caesar’s attendant Curio offers to protect Cornelia in return for her love, and is bitterly rejected. Cornelia urges her young son Sesto to take revenge on his father’s killers.
Hearing of her brother Tolomeo’s ill-received gift, Cleopatra taunts him. She then resolves to seduce Caesar in order to use him to wrest power from her brother. To win his trust, she pretends to be a commoner called Lidia. In the same disguise, Cleopatra also forms an alliance with Cornelia and Sesto, offering her agent Nireno as a guide to Tolomeo’s private chamber.
Caesar chides his host Tolomeo for his misconduct and advises him on proper authority. He evades assassination.
When they confront Tolomeo with his treachery (he had previously allied himself with Pompey), Cornelia and Sesto are condemned by him to the harem and to prison respectively. Privately, Achilla offers to help the friendless pair in return for Cornelia’s love. She treats him with contempt. Left alone with her son for a moment, they lament their bleak future.
Part 2 (original Act II, scenes 1-8)
Cleopatra has contrived an elaborate scene in which to advance her seduction of Caesar.
In contrast, in the harem, Cornelia is subject to the crude advances of Achilla and the cruel advances of Tolomeo himself. Tolomeo offers to reward Achilla with Cornelia if he succeeds in assassinating Caesar. Cornelia would take her own life, but is prevented by Sesto – who, with the help of Nireno, intends to murder Tolomeo.
Cleopatra pretends to be asleep as she waits to meet Caesar. Making love to her as Lidia, Caesar is shocked when she offers to marry him. Curio brings word of a popular uprising against the Romans, and Caesar in particular. Before he can leave, Lidia reveals herself to be Cleopatra, and urges him to flee rather than fight. Impetuously, he declines. Alone, she is surprised to find that she loves him, and devastated to know that she has lost him and her gamble for power.
Jonathan Peter KennyConductor
Mark HowlandLighting Designer