This is a cantata written by Hector Berlioz. It was inspired from a poem by P. Vieillard. This cantata is less familiar in the vocal music repertoire. For Berlioz's followers, it brings into focus Berlioz's admiration in the realm of antiquity. It also includes a melody that Berlioz would later use again in his opera `Benvenuto Cellini'; it is used as the English horn theme that can be heard at the beginning of the second section of Le Carnaval Romain.
The composition is broken into five segments - 1. Allegro vivace con impeto - Recitativo
2. Lento Cantabile - Recitativo
3. Méditation. Largo Misterioso
4. Allegro Assai Agitato
5. Moderato. Recitativo Misurato
Berlioz entered this composition in 1829 in the Prix de Rome. This was his third attempt at the coveted prize. In those days, the judges were known for their conservative inclinations and, as expected, even his third attempt was unsuccessful as he did not do anything about diluting his innovative and adventurous style of writing. However, Berlioz won after a couple of years when he submitted another cantata, `La Mort de Sardanaple'.
Jessye Norman and Daniel Barenboim with L'Orchestre de Paris bring out a convincing performance and make a strong impression. I have this on DGG vinyl that I purchased in 1985. Norman has given a gripping portrayal of the tragic queen who died by her own hand. Norman is superb in the central Meditation and in the fashion she whispers the last phrases uttered by the Queen. It is a compelling performance. Barenboim matches her achievement by bringing out the innovative nuances of Berlioz's score, supporting her all the time. The final passages are superb with sthe strings illustrating the death of Cleopatra. These are extremely original passages and the judges were arseholes not to realise the astonishing and compelling style of writing.