Frederick the Great of Prussia dreamt of creating a court that was the cultural centre of Europe while he grew up at the arid, militaristic court of his father. With Carl Heinrich Graun’s magnificent Cleopatra e Cesare, composed for the opening of his new court opera house in 1742, he realised his dream.
Graun’s clashing characters are all flawed, and all full-blooded. Surprisingly, Frederick seems to be seen in the youthful, proud Tolomeo of Egypt, rather than in his mighty Roman foe who came, saw, and almost conquered. On the other hand are two richly characterised women: the Roman Cornelia, maddened by grief, and the sensual Cleopatra, who is surprised by love.
In this opera, each scene is a play with very high stakes, and each aria reveals new splendours. Rarely performed, richly endowed – it is one that every opera lover will want to experience.