Notes and Editorial Reviews
Format: All Formats
Regions: All Regions
Picture size: 16:9
Approx running time: 295 Mins
Sound: DTS SurroundSound / LPCM STEREO
Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian
Number of discs: 3
Documentary about the opera including interviews with William Christie, David McVicar and the cast.
Informal portrait of Danielle de Niese in her first-ever Glyndebourne season.
This production updates Handel's Giulio Cesare to approximately the first fifth of the 20th century, when the Brits were still busy colonizing. Brigitte Reiffenstuel's costumes are all razzle-dazzle exotic
for the Egyptians, who always seem to have billows of chiffon and silk at their beck and call, sort of like Scheherazade, and Caesar's soldiers wear uniforms we've seen in films about the British in North Africa. Robert Jones' set is a Baroque opera conceit--rows of proscenium arches receding into the distance, allowing for other sets and puffy, swirling curtains to fly in from time to time. At the end of these arches is the undulating Nile--Caesar's galleys appear on it early in the opera. Later, as Caesar goes off to victory, World War I gunboats float by while zeppelins loom overhead. The set darkens for quieter moments: when Cleopatra seduces Caesar, otherworldly stars appear on earth and in heaven.
Director David McVicar has conceived a very nervy production. Not only is it updated, but he alternates the highly-charged dramatic situations--the ghastly presentation of Pompey's head to his widow, the ravishing seduction scenes--with some song-and-dance numbers from Cleopatra and her compatriots. It's all vastly entertaining (there is an extra on the CDs called "Entertainment is not a dirty word", in which McVicar and others discuss the approach), and if the high camp sometimes blurs the message of the opera as Handel composed it--it's actually quite a diatribe about internal and external politics, empire-building, love, and passion--well, enough crucial messages get through. And there's almost never a dull moment--how often can you say that about an opera running longer than three hours?
The vocal and dramatic focal point of the opera is the Cleopatra of Danielle de Niese, a 25-year-old Australian-born, Los Angeles-raised American, who gets a half-hour documentary to herself on the discs. (She was the host of a TV show for teens when she was 15 and made her Met debut at 19 as Barbarina in Figaro.) She's beautiful, lithe and sexy, a formidable actress, dancer, and singer, and she has the kind of chutzpah that seems to grow only in America. She's remarkably charismatic and sure of herself, and her tone, darkish for an assured coloratura soprano, is gorgeous. Though her Italian is impeccable, she delivers some of her lines with a sort of Valley Girl attitude--not altogether out of place for the 17-year-old Queen of Egypt. She's dynamite and has to be seen.
The cast is generally remarkable, but a couple of the singers are just about as ideal as de Niese: Angelika Kirchschlager's Sesto has a warm, grand tone that is just right for this unhappy lad; and countertenor Christopher Dumaux's loose-cannon Tolomeo is not only amazingly sung, but I doubt if there's ever been a campier or more terrifying performance of this role. Cornelia is a tragic, beaten figure, and Patricia Bardon gives her gravity and dignity, while Christopher Maltman uses his baritone expressively as Achilles, his constant emotional groping of Cornelia truly nasty. As Nireno, Cleopatra's fey servant, countertenor Rachid Ben Abdeslam joins in the dances with Cleopatra and sings as if he means it.
I must admit to preferring a countertenor in the title role, but if we must have a mezzo and Jennifer Larmore is unavailable, then Sarah Connolly will certainly do. She manages to imitate a man's gait convincingly, carries herself like an Emperor, and sings Handel's difficult music with aplomb. If the laments and introspective moments are more effective than the military outpourings, well, there's little you can do about that with a tone that is just a shade too bright for the part. But I don't mean to denigrate her performance one bit--she's superb.
It almost isn't necessary to praise William Christie and his players; there is such energy and passion in this performance, such a love of music making and theater, that I suspect it won't be equaled for years to come. There are a few cuts--one of Cleopatra's eight(!) arias is excised, and so is a bunch of recitative. Production values--picture, sound, subtitles--are first rate. This is thrilling. [6/14/2006]
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Giulio Cesare, HWV 17 by George Frideric Handel
Sarah Connolly (Mezzo Soprano),
Christopher Maltman (Baritone),
Patricia Bardon (Mezzo Soprano),
Christophe Dumaux (Counter Tenor),
Angelika Kirchschlager (Mezzo Soprano),
Danielle De Niese (Soprano),
Rachid Ben Abdeslam (Counter Tenor)
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment,
Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
Written: 1724; London, England
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