Cleopatra: The Last Pharaoh

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May 5-6, 2017

Marines’ Memorial Theatre, San Francisco

More than two millennia after her death, Cleopatra VII remains an enigma and an object of fascination. The last Ptolemaic ruler of Hellenistic Egypt and the most influential woman of her times, Cleopatra amassed enormous wealth and power. She lived dangerously and died sensationally. Ever since, she has been an iconic figure, continually re-imagined through the cultural prisms of successive ages.

Presented with the support of the Italian Cultural Institute.

Friday, May 5, 7:30 – 9:30 pm 

Cleopatra: The Last Pharaoh / Stacy Schiff. Her palace shimmered with onyx and gold, but was richer still in political and sexual intrigue. Cleopatra was a shrewd strategist and an ingenious negotiator. She was married twice, each time to a brother: she waged a brutal civil war against the first and poisoned the second. She dispensed with an ambitious sister as well; incest and assassination were family specialties. Cleopatra appears to have had sex with only two men—Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, with both of whom she had children. Famous long before she was notorious, she has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons. Even before the Roman intrigues she was the wealthiest ruler in the Mediterranean; the relationship with Antony confirmed her status as the most influential woman of the age. The two would attempt to forge a new empire, in an alliance that spelled their spectacular ends. Cleopatra has lodged herself in our imaginations ever since. Though her life spanned fewer than forty years, it reshaped the contours of the ancient world.

Performance: Cleopatra at the Opera: Excerpts from Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto. Of the numerous operas inspired by Cleopatra’s life and legends, the arguably most successful is George Frideric Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto (Julius Caesar in Egypt) of 1724. Its heroine Cleopatra proves herself to be a multifaceted and fascinating character who uses her beauty, wit and wiles to seduce Caesar in order to gain power, but then falls in love with him. Together they combat her brother, the would-be Pharaoh Ptolemy, and win for her the throne of Egypt. Live performances of excerpts from the opera will bring alive this fabled love affair as viewed with Eighteenth-Century eyes. Introduced by Clifford (Kip) Cranna (SF Opera). Sara Duchovnay (soprano) and Mariya Kaganskaya (mezzo-soprano), accompanied by Steven Harmon (french horn) and Andrew Wang (piano).

Saturday, May 6, 10:00 am – noon and 1:30 – 4:00 pm

Cleopatra’s Alexandria / Grant Parker (Classics, Stanford). When she wasn’t being Caesar’s mistress or Antony’s wife, Cleopatra ruled Egypt for twenty-one years. She headed an enormous imperial bureaucracy that received and sent ambassadors from as far away as India, levied taxes, oversaw the harvest, sales, and distribution of cereal crops, built temples, and acted as high priestess in the sacred rituals of the Egyptians. Her capital city was Alexandria, the first city of the Mediterranean until the rise of Rome; the greatest center of learning (including mathematics and medicine) in the Western world; an entrepot for trade with India, Africa, the Levant and with Greece, Italy, Sicily and Spain. Ancient documents (one of which may even contain her signature) provide insights into how she negotiated the last years of her country’s independence.  

Cleopatra’s Mark on Rome / Lisa Pieraccini (Classics, UC Berkeley). The name Cleopatra conjures up much in the popular imagination today–a powerful Egyptian queen who was the lover and wife of two of Rome’s most famous leading men. She is known as the ruler of the east who combined her personal and public affairs with the west. But what do we really know about her relationships with Caesar, Mark Antony and the city of Rome? What happened to her children by both Caesar and Mark Antony? What artistic mark did she leave in Rome – the city that celebrated both her visit during the time of Julius Caesar as well as her death after the battle of Actium?

 Performance: Mark Antony and Cleopatra: A Chamber Cantata by Antonio Scarlatti. Among the countless composers who were attracted to the story of Cleopatra was the great master of the Italian Baroque Antonio Scarlatti (1660-1725). His brief chamber cantata Marc Antonio e Cleopatra gives us a glimpse of two famous rulers torn between their loving devotion and the call to battle to defeat their enemies. Tender sentiments mix with vocal acrobatics in this gem of a chamber duet inspired by history — and legend. Introduced by Kip Cranna. Two vocalists: Mariya Kaganskaya (mezzo-soprano), Sara Duchovnay (soprano), and Andrew Wang (piano).

Death Becomes Her: The Suicide of Cleopatra in Western Culture / Robert Gurval (Classics, UCLA) The suicide of Cleopatra has bequeathed to western culture one of the most famous and memorable death scenes in literature, drama and the visual arts of painting, sculpture and film. The traditional story derives chiefly from the rich narrative of Plutarch’s biography of Mark Antony. Its action is driven by multiple themes of deception, deliberation, and death. The climactic moment, of course, is the bite of the asp. Surveying the literary and visual representations of Cleopatra’s dramatic death, from Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women to the mini-series HBO Rome in the 21st century, this illustrated lecture will explore the potent symbolism of the suicide in classical antiquity and subsequent eras. It will try to answer the question whether her final act of dying by the serpent’s bite redeems Cleopatra and Death becomes Her.

Panel discussion with the lecturers

Download the postcard here: HW Cleopatra Postcard FINAL

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Presenters & Resources


Kip Clifford (Kip) Cranna, Dramaturg at San Francisco Opera, has served on the staff since 1979. He has a BA in music from University of North Dakota and a PhD in musicology from Stanford. He has served as vocal adjudicator for numerous groups, including the Metropolitan Opera National Council. For 30 years he was Program Editor and Lecturer for the Carmel Bach Festival. He lectures and writes frequently on music, teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory, and often moderates panel discussions such as the Opera Guild’s “Insights.” In 2008 he was awarded the San Francisco Opera Medal, the company’s highest honor, and in 2012 he received the Bernard Osher Cultural Award for distinguished efforts to bring excellence to a cultural institution. Dr. Cranna was a longtime member of the Board of Trustees of Chanticleer, a professional vocal ensemble. He is currently on the board of Humanities West and the Advisory Board of the contemporary music group Opera Parallele.
DuchovnaySoprano Sara Duchovnay holds a Master of Music from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and studies with mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook. Recent roles include Nannetta in Falstaff for Opera San Jose; Soprano 1 in West Edge Opera’s Hydrogen Jukebox; Dorothea in Allen Shearer’s SF opera Middlemarch in Spring; Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos with Pacific Opera Project; Naiad in Ariadne auf Naxos with Festival Opera in Walnut Creek; Zerlina in Don Giovanni at Opera Santa Barbara, Della in David Conte’s Gift of the Magi for Hidden Valley Opera Ensemble in Carmel CA. Sara has embodied many of Mozart’s and Handel’s most fascinating characters, including Poppea in Agrippina, Alcina in Alcina, Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro, Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Musetta in La bohème, The Fire and the Princess in L’enfant et les sortilèges, Euridice in Orpheus in the Underworld, and Valencienne in The Merry Widow.

GurvalRobert Gurval (PhD, Classics, UC Berkeley) is Associate Professor of Classics at UCLA. Among his many honors are a Fulbright Scholarship, Hong Kong General Education; teaching awards from the American Philological Association and UCLA; Regents Scholars Society; American Academy in Rome, Rome Prize, School of Classical Studies. His publications and presentations (among many) include Actium and Augustus: The Politics and Emotions of Civil War (1996); “Dying Like a Queen: The Story of Cleopatra and the Asp(s) in Antiquity,” in Cleopatra. A Sphinx Revisited, ed. M.M. Miles (2011); “Cast(igat)ing Cleopatra: HBO Rome and an Egyptian Queen for the 21st Century,” American Philological Association Annual Meeting, San Diego (2007); “Casting Cleo: The Women who played Cleopatra in Film and Television,” California Classical Association-Northern Section Meeting, SF (2006); “Representing Cleopatra: Literature, Drama and Film” [several places]. He teaches an honors course, Representing Cleopatra: History, Literature, and Film.

Steven Harmon (French Horn) has performed professionally with ensembles including SF Symphony, Classical Revolution Orchestra, One Found Sound, and Golden Gate Symphony. Solo performances include Mozart’s horn Concerto No. 3 in Eb with Palisades Symphony and notable masterclasses including with Stefan Dohr, Dale Clevenger, and Andrew Bain. He is earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Horn Performance at SF Conservatory of Music as a student of the SF Opera and Ballet Principal Horn, Kevin Rivard. Past teachers include Bruce Roberts, Teag Reaves, and Annie Bosler.

Mariya KaganskayaMezzo-Soprano Mariya Kaganskaya premiered Will You, Won’t You?, a song cycle written for her by composer Elinor Armer, and debuted in China with Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and Shanghai Philharmonic as a Young Artist with the iSing International Festival. She has performed as La Nourrice (Médée) at Mills College, Teacher (The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs) for Santa Fe Opera, Dinah (Trouble in Tahiti) with SF Conservatory Opera Department, Ottavia (L’incoronazione di Poppea) with the Conservatory Baroque Ensemble, Mexican Woman (A Streetcar Named Desire) with Opera Santa Barbara, Serse (Serse) with SFCM Baroque Ensemble, Olga (Eugene Onegin) with the Russian Opera Workshop in Philadelphia, Cornelia (Giulio Cesare), Volupia (L’Egisto), Charlotte (Werther), Dorabella (Così fan tutte), Romeo (I Capuleti e i Montecchi), Marta (Iolanta), Orlofsky (Die Fledermaus), Angelina (La Cenerentola), The Fox (The Little Prince), and Mme Pernelle (Tartuffe).

PieracciniLisa C. Pieraccini (PhD, UC Santa Barbara) teaches at UC Berkeley in Classics. A classical archaeologist, she has spent many years teaching and conducting research in Italy. Her research interests include Etruscan and Roman material culture, Pompeii’s early development and cultural relations with neighboring peoples, the 18th-century rediscovery of Pompeii, as well as Etruscan and Roman wall painting. She is active at the Etruscan site of Cerveteri north of Rome, and her publications include Etruscan burial customs, ceramic workshops, and international trade. Her book, Around the Hearth: Caeretan Cylinder- Stamped Braziers (2003), is the first comprehensive study of a unique class of more than 350 Etruscan braziers. Her analysis examines different aspects of origin, production, iconography, style, chronology, and distribution. Lisa is also co-editor of a series of books dedicated to Etruscan Cities published by the University of Texas Press. She previously lectured at Humanities West’s programs on Pompeii and at The Roman Republic.

Stacy-Schiff-credit-Elena-SeibertStacy Schiff is the author of Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) (2000), winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Saint-Exupéry (2006), Pulitzer Prize finalist; and A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America (2007), winner of the George Washington Book Prize, the Ambassador Award in American Studies, and the Gilbert Chinard Prize of the Institut Français d’Amérique. Cleopatra: A Life (2010) won the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for biography. Her latest book is The Witches: Salem, 1692 (2015). Stacy has received fellowships from Guggenheim Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanities and was a Director’s Fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at NY Public Library. She received a 2006 Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2011 she was named a Library Lion by NY Public Library. Schiff has written for The New Yorker, New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, and Boston Globe, among others.

Grant Parker is Associate Professor and Chair of Stanford’s Department of Classics. He studied at the University of Cape Town and Princeton University, and he previously taught at Duke University. He has researched Rome’s Egyptian fascination and has published several articles on Egyptian obelisks in the city of Rome. His publications include The Making of Roman India (2008) and ‘Mobile monumentality: the case of obelisks’ (in Approaching Monumentality in Archaeology, ed. James Osborne, 2014). His interest in the classical tradition is attested in The Agony of Asar: a thesis on slavery by the former slave, Jacobus Elisa Johannes Capitein, 1717-1747 (1999) and, as editor, South Africa, Greece, Rome: classical confrontations (forthcoming 2017).

Andrew Wang (piano) began piano studies in Vancouver and earned an associateship diploma of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada at the age of thirteen. During high school he studied with Sasha Starcevich, frequently winning awards in piano competitions at the local, national, and international levels. He has been a three-time winner of the Canadian Music Competition and the winner of the Grand Prize at the Canadian National Music Festival in 2009. Andrew has performed with Vancouver Symphony, Toronto Symphony, Seattle’s Philharmonia Northwest, and the University Symphony Orchestra at the University of Michigan. A graduate of Michigan, Andrew now studies with Yoshikazu Nagai at the SF Conservatory of Music.

Resource Materials

Some Resources for Cleopatra: The Last Pharaoh May 2017 

Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. 1991. (Discusses Cleopatra as one of Shakespeare’s most fascinating and dynamic characters).

Bronte, Charlotte. Villette. (Description of a painting of Cleopatra!)

Dante. Inferno. (Cleopatra appears in Canto 5 of Dante’s Inferno among the lustful, in the company of Helen of Troy).

Eliot, T.S. The Waste Land. (Borrows a line from Shakespeare describing Cleopatra).

Fletcher, Joann. Cleopatra the Great: The Woman Behind the Legend. 2012.

Fox, Robin Lane. The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian. 2008. (Includes an illuminating and brief section on Antony and Cleopatra pg. 407-417).

Goldsworthy, Adrian. Antony and Cleopatra. 2010.

Holland, Tom. Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic. 2005. (Discusses Cleopatra in her relation to Rome, Pompey, Caesar, Antony).

Holleman, Emily. Cleopatra’s Shadows. 2015. (A novel which reimagines Cleopatra’s rise to power through the perspective of her sister Arsinoe).

Joyce, James. Ulysses. (The famous Scylla and Charybdis chapter discusses her in relation to Shakespeare’s Dark Lady of the Sonnets).

Kleiner, Diana. I, Clavdia, I and II: Women in Ancient Rome. Yale, 1996.

—. Cleopatra and Rome. Harvard University Press, 2005.

McKenzie, Judith. The Architecture of Alexandria and Egypt: 300 BC – 700 AD. 2011.

Nuttall, A.D. Shakespeare: The Thinker. 2008. (Reviews the complexities of Cleopatra’s character, the vibrant language of the play, and the contrast between stoic Rome and dissolute Alexandria).

Packer, Tina. Women of Will: The Remarkable Evolution of Shakespeare’s Female Characters. 2016. (Includes a chapter on Antony and Cleopatra which traces Shakespeare’s depiction of Cleopatra in the ongoing development of his female characters).

Plutarch. Lives. Available online:*.html (Is thought to be the main source for the depiction of Cleopatra’s famous death).

Pollard, Justin & Reid, Howard. The Rise and Fall of Alexandria: Birthplace of the Modern World. 2007.

Schiff, Stacy. Cleopatra: A Life. 2010.

—. Rehabilitating Cleopatra. Smithsonian Magazine (December 2010). Accessible at

Shakespeare, William. Antony and Cleopatra. (Widely available).

Shaw, George Bernard. Caesar and Cleopatra.

Tyldesely, Joyce. Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt. 2008.

—. Ed. The Penguin Book of Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt. 2010.

Wilder, Thornton. The Ides of March. 1948.

Online Resources:

Painting by Arthur Reginald Cleopatra [Painting], Retrieved September 26, 2012 from:

Drawing of Cleopatra by Michelangelo Wikimedia


Taken from Stanford History Education Group