April 6, 2003 at 3pm
A chorus of Romans, Greeks, Persians, Jews, and soldiers, like the chorus in a Greek tragedy, warns the Roman general Antony, to stop his wanton behavior with the Egyptian queen Cleopatra.
Antony, in Alexandria, tells his comrade-in-arms Enobarbus that he will return to Rome. Enobarbus predicts that Cleopatra will not accept it. Cleopatra enters, and the lovers bid each other a temporary farewell.
In the Senate, in Rome, Caesar receives Antony coldly, chastising him for ignoring his duty. They argue, and Agrippa encourages the two leaders to reach accord, suggesting that Antony marry Caesar's sister, Octavia, as a sign of peace between them. Antony agrees.
In her palace in Alexandria, Cleopatra sings the praise of Antony and bemoans their separation. She punishes the messenger who brings her news of Antony's marriage and although she and her ladies delight in questioning the messenger about Octavia, and ridiculing her, Cleopatra leaves in despair.
In a Roman banquet hall, the soldiers are celebrating the reconciliation of Caesar and Antony. Caesar bequeaths his sister to Antony who meets Octavia and asks her not to judge him on his past reputation. Octavia and Caesar leave, and the drunken soldiers, including Antony doze. Enobarbus claims that Antony will never give Cleopatra up. As he muses on their first meeting a vision of Cleopatra on her golden barge emerges. In the vision she cries for the return of her "man of men." Antony awakens and cries that he will return to Egypt.
Caesar rants to the Roman Senate about Antony's desertion and demands that he be brought to reckoning. He vows to meet Antony on the battlefield.
In the garden of Cleopatra's palace, members of the court tease a soothsayer. They are interrupted by Cleopatra and Antony who are themselves interrupted by Enobarbus. He reports that Caesar is advancing. Antony immediately leaves to organize his troops. Cleopatra swears revenge on Enobarbus for blocking her attempts to follow Antony into battle and vows she "will not stay behind."
In Antony's camp, soldiers on the night watch hear a ghostly melody as the spirit of the god Hercules abandons his support of Antony.
At dawn, Antony and Cleopatra, asleep in his tent, awaken and renew their love ("Oh take, oh take those lips away"). Against Cleopatra's protests. Antony leaves to prepare for battle. Cleopatra's army also readies to march into war.
At the height of the battle, Cleopatra's ships are seen in the distance suddenly fleeing back to Alexandria. Several of Antony's officers watch in horror. Antony himself appears, distraught over his defeat.
In her palace, Cleopatra receives Caesar's emissary with the terms of surrender. Antony bursts in and orders Caesar's ambassador whipped. He bitterly denounces the queen, who retreats to the sanctuary of her monument. At the suggestion of her attendant, she sends a message to Antony that she has killed herself.
That night, Enobarbus laments his fate. He learns that Antony has sent all his belongings after him, and, cursing himself for his betrayal, goes off to die of a broken heart. Word comes to Antony that the queen has died, speaking his name. He orders his shieldbearer Eros to kill him with his own sword; to avoid this, Eros stabs himself instead. Antony retrieves the sword and falls on it. Cleopatra's attendant enters with word that she is not really dead. Antony begs to be carried to her.
Antony is lifted to Cleopatra's monument, where he bids her farewell and dies. Caesar arrives to pay respects to both Cleopatra and his dead colleague. But, inside her monument, Cleopatra learns from Caesar's officer Dolabella that she will be dragged through the streets of Rome as a captive.
Despising the thought of being led in defeat, Cleopatra summons a rural fellow who brings her a basket that contains asps concealed among figs. Taking the snakes, she and her two handmaidens die as the chorus intones a lament for the immortal lovers.
The synopsis originally appeared in the liner notes to the New World Records release of Antony and Cleopatra. Reprinted by permission. For more information go to www.newworldrecords.org
Program notes for this concert