Handel’s Giulio Cesare
The two arias “Svegliatevi nel cor,” and “Tutto può donna vezzosa” from Handel’s Giulio Cesare both contain the common theme of want and longing. Both lead singers are verbalizing their strong desire for a specific thing. In the case of Sesto, he is seeking revenge for the untimely demise of his father, Pompey. Cleopatra on the other hand does not want justice, but instead wishes to use Ptolomey’s betrayal of Pompey to gain Cesare’s trust, and gain sole possession of the throne. Handel creates a nervous tension in Sesto’s aria to portray the racing thoughts of a young man who has just lost his father. In Cleopatra’s aria the music is much more upbeat, and the 3/4 meter creates a driving downbeat that pushes the music forward. Although both characters are in search of doing something they believe to be right, Sesto is motivated by anger, and Cleopatra by greed.
Sesto is the lead singer of the first Aria, he is the son of Pompey and Cornelia. At the start of Act I Sesto learns that Ptolomey, one of Cesare’s high ranking officials, has murdered his father and cut off his head. Sesto feels great anger and seeks vengeance on Ptolomey, which he states at the end of the first strophe singing: “To wreak bitter vengeance upon a traitor!” Sesto even takes a pause between the third and fourth line of the first strophe to emphasize how big of a “traitor” Ptolomey is. However; the aria shifts moods when the second strophe begins, introducing the unsung section. Feelings of anger and angst are replaced by sadness and despair; the orchestra softens and the once strong sense of meter fades away as the text becomes the main focus. The feeling of the second strophe is much more reflective than the first, and words such as “severity” are emphasized to portray the seriousness of the matter. This continues until around the 2:40 mark when the first strophe repeats and the strings become more prominent once again. Sesto is then able to leave in an enraged mood to revenge his father’s death. The lead singer of the second aria is Cleopatra, and the audience is introduced to her in her palace in Alexandria. The theme of this Aria is similar to the first in that Cleopatra is singing about something she desires. Although instead of being motivated by anger she is motivated by greed. The audience is able to hear that Cleopatra is a very proud woman whom believes she will easily be able to win Cesare’s aid, and gain possession of the throne. She is singing of how any task is doable if you are a lovely woman, slowing down to sing “amarosa,” a reference to her as a “lovely woman.”
From a musical standpoint Handel does a great job in setting the specific mood for each aria. At the beginning of “Svegliatevi nel cor” the music creates an unsettling mood, and Sesto’s voice creates more anxiety as the piece builds.