Notes and Editorial Reviews
George Frideric Handel
Giulio Cesare – Flavio Oliver
Curio – David Menéndez
Cornelia – Ewa Podle?
Sesto – Maite Beaumont
Cleopatra – Elena de la Merced
Tolomeo – Jordi Domènech
Achilla – Oliver Zwarg
Nireno – Itxaro Mentxaka
Coccodrillo – Héctor Manzanares
Liceu Grand Theatre Chorus and Orchestra
(chorus master: William Spaulding)
Michael Hofstetter, conductor
Herbert Wernicke, stage director, set and costume designer
Hermann Münzer, lighting designer
Recorded live from the Gran Teatre del Liceu, July 2004
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Catalan
Running time: 216 mins
No. of DVDs: 2 (DVD 9)
R E V I E W:
HANDEL Giulio Cesare • Michael Hofstetter, cond; Flavio Oliver ( Giulio Cesare ); David Mendéndez ( Curio ); Ewa Podle? ( Cornelia ); Maite Beaumont ( Sesto ); Elena de la Merced ( Cleopatra ); Jordi Domènech ( Tolomeo ); Oliver Zwarg ( Achilla ); Itxaro Mentxaka ( Nireno ); Héctor Manzanares ( Coccodrillo ); Ch & O Gran Teatre del Liceu • EUROARTS 107279 (2 DVDs: 216:00) Live: Gran Teatro del Liceu 2004
Handel’s Giulio Cesare is well served in the catalogs. On DVD/Blu-ray, the version from Glyndebourne with Sarah Connelly and Angelika Kirchschlager (OAE/William Christie) has stolen many a reviewer and purchaser’s hearts, including some over here at Fanfare Towers. The present Liceu production is fascinating, visually involving, and contains playing and singing of great beauty as well as dramatic bite. The setting and general antics might be a little more controversial, however. It is set on an enlarged Rosetta Stone. A crocodile is a frequent guest on stage (a symbol of the myth of Egypt, apparently, and probably of ancient histories generally), but at least it doesn’t sing. The booklet notes refer to it as a “mute protagonist” in this production, an observer from an ancient past, and while in the earlier part of the opera it remains acting (approximately) as crocodiles do, in the final scenes its reactions become remarkably cartoon-like. Costumes seem to be derived from a number of different periods (20th-century military, 19th-century garb for Cornelia, and, of course, a laurel crown for Cesare himself). Placards arrive from time to time, but they are either not readable or partially out of shot in the present filming.
Right from the start the musical qualities are clear, though, in the full French Overture (during which we see a boat arriving at the side of the stage). The orchestra is on top form, and throughout relishes Handel’s many challenges (it seems particularly fine at the modernist scoring of Tolomeo’s act 3 aria, “Stille amare”). The lighting and staging, comprising blacks and various grays at the opening, is magical. Indeed the lighting is consistently excellent, succeeding in the daringly dark latter stages of the final act. But the strength of this production is an even cast. As Cesare, countertenor Flavio Oliver is remarkable, only occasionally slowing down a fraction for Handel’s more florid demands.
Achilla is dressed as a tourist/safari gear, as far as I can see (more on tourists later). Oliver Zwarg is characterful in act 2, but his star turn comes at the opening of act 3, and if he is not entirely accurate in all of his runs and decorations, he is terrific to watch. Perhaps the star of the evening is contralto Eva Podle?’s Cornelia; her superbly creamy act 1 lament is incredibly touching, unhurried, and with a marvelously tender accompaniment from Hofstetter. Her voice is beautifully free, and the audience’s cheers after that lament reflect the excellence of her delivery. Her act 2 aria “Cessa omai di sospirare” is a model of taste and decorum. Elena de la Merced (Cleopatra) has a bright edge to her voice, which comes in delicious contrast to the female voices heard so far. Her “Non disperar” is light and simply gorgeous, as is her second act aria, “Se pietà di me non senti” (add to this that the accompaniment here, once more, is absolutely ravishing). She seems to save up her expressive energies, though, for the most famous aria from this opera, the act 3 “Piangerò la sorte mia.” Even on DVD it sends shivers down the back, so one can only wonder about its impact in Barcelona.
Jordi Domènech’s rendition of Tolomeo’s act 2 aria, “Sì, spietata, il tuo rigore” is dispatched with great power, as is everything he touches here. Maite Beaumont is a lovely Sesto with great legato. There is proper fury in her aria (“Svegliatevi nel core”), and great drama to “L’aure che spira,” which brings the second act to a close.
Some production clichés are in evidence here. Having characters sing (and even sit) amongst the audience is neither new nor clever, and the appearance of present-day tourists for the final chorus to contextualize the action (I think back to an Akhnaten I saw at English National Opera many years ago, which did exactly the same thing) speaks of gimmickry. Yet the use of silhouette for Cesare immediately after Cleopatra’s “Piangerò” is remarkably effective. In truth, there is so much to enjoy overall here, particularly, perhaps, in the unfailing dramatic instincts of Michael Hofstetter, in the remarkably consistent excellence of the cast, and in the staging’s many striking images (you may love them or hate them, be warned), that this remains a very worthwhile purchase indeed. Musically, Handel’s magnificent opera is done proud. This 2004 performance appears to have been previously available on a TDK DVD.
FANFARE: Colin Clarke
Works on This Recording
Giulio Cesare, HWV 17 by George Frideric Handel
Itxaro Mentxaka (Soprano),
Oliver Zwarg (Bass),
Jordi Domčnech (Countertenor),
Elena De la Merced (Soprano),
David Menéndez (Voice),
Maité Beaumont (Mezzo Soprano),
Flavio Oliver (Voice),
Ewa Podles (Alto)
Barcelona Teatro Liceu Orchestra,
Barcelona Teatro Liceu Chorus
Written: 1724; London, England
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