French operatic contralto and conductor Nathalie Stutzmann and the French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky record George Frideric Handel ‘s duet “Son nata a lagrimar”. Stutzmann also conducts her superb musicians playing on Baroque instruments (Orfeo 55). This famous Cornelia and Sesto duet is from Giulio Cesare in Egitto (Italian for “Julius Caesar in Egypt”, HWV 17), commonly known as Giulio Cesare, a dramma per musica (opera seria) in three acts.
The piece was recorded for Nathalie Stutzmann’s new album on Warner Classics & Erato “Heroes from the Shadows”.
Nathalie Stutzmann says: “From early on in my career, I’ve had the fortune of being invited to play the star roles for contralto in these great Handel operas – be it Caesar, Orlando, Radamisto or others. But I dreamed of the tantalizing possibilities of immersing myself in the shadows of these works; shedding light on this repertoire of second or even third-tier background roles, often forgotten by audiences as they leave the theatre, but who captivated them for a few minutes from the edges of the main action. They’re a little like the actors that pop up in films, whose names we know and whose voices we recognize but we struggle to recall their names.”
Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar)
Handel composed Giulio Cesare for the Royal Academy of Music in 1724. As its name suggests, the opera’s plot is loosely based on historic events during the Roman Civil War of 49-45 BC, while Caesar had been in Egypt installing Cleopatra as sole ruler.
The libretto was written by Nicola Francesco Haym who used an earlier libretto by Giacomo Francesco Bussani, which had been set to music by Antonio Sartorio (1676). The opera was a success at its first performances, was frequently revived by Handel in his subsequent opera seasons and is now one of the most often performed Baroque operas.
Son nata a lagrimar
Cesare meets Tolomeo, who offers him a room in the royal apartments, though Cesare tells Curio that he expects Tolomeo to betray him. (Aria: Va tacito e nascosto). Tolomeo is fascinated by Cornelia’s beauty but has promised Achilla that he could have her. (Aria: Tu sei il cor di questo core). Sesto attempts to challenge Tolomeo, but is unsuccessful. When Cornelia rejects Achilla, he orders the soldiers to arrest Sesto.
Cornelia e Sesto
Son nata/o a lagrimar/sospirar, e il dolce mio conforto,
ah, sempre piangerò.
Se il fato ci tradì,
sereno e lieto dì
mai più sperar potrò.
English Libretto or Translation:
Cornelia and Sesto
I was born / or lagrimar / sigh, and my sweet comfort,
ah, I will always cry.
If fate betrayed us,
serene and happy
I can never hope again.