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Paul Corneilson

Libretto subject much used in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its principal sources are the historical accounts of the Roman leader Julius Caesar as recorded in Plutarch’s Lives. Opera librettos have tended to focus either on Caesar’s visit to Egypt, where he falls in love with Cleopatra (the subject of Bernard Shaw’s play Caesar and Cleopatra), or on his assassination at the hands of his fellow Romans (as in William Shakespeare ’s tragedy Julius Caesar). They may be found under titles including Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Cesare in Alessandra, Cesare e Cleopatra, Cesare in Egitto, La morte di Cesare and Il trionfo di Cesare.

Possibly the first libretto featuring an episode from the life of Caesar was G. F. Busenello’s La prosperità in felice di Giulio Cesare dittatore (libretto published in 1656; possibly intended for the Teatro SS Giovanni e Paolo, Venice, with music attributed to Cavalli, but possibly not composed). Probably the earliest setting on the Caesar and Cleopatra theme is Cesti’s ...