John Copley's production of Handel's Julius Caesar features the great mezzo-soprano Janet Baker in one the roles she made her own.
She leads a cast of some of Britain's finest interpreters of baroque opera in a performance of the highest musical excellence.
Charles Mackerras conducts. The English National Opera staging was specially adapted for this finely-realized studio recording.
Region: 1 (US and Canada)
Running Time: 180 minutes
Format: NTSC, 4.3 Full Screen, LPCM
Review of CD version:
"I can only second the enthusiastic reception I gave this performance when it appeared on LP. The Handelian accomplishments of allRead more concerned are there for everyone to hear, and now that Dame Janet is no longer performing in opera it gains in importance as a record in every sense of her sovereign achievement in Handel, encompassing every facet of the composer's style—legato, tonal variety, clarity of diction, virtuoso runs. Valerie Masterson is virtually her equal in all these respects but then so are all the other main singers in this set... Sir Charles's conducting is full of verve and sensitivity with tempos ideally judged and the instrumental textures made plain within keenly-sprung rhythms."
Giulio Cesare, HWV 17by George Frideric Handel Performer:
Valerie Masterson (Soprano),
James Bowman (Countertenor),
Dame Janet Baker (Mezzo Soprano),
John Tomlinson (Bass),
Della Jones (Mezzo Soprano),
Sarah Walker (Mezzo Soprano)
Sir Charles Mackerras
English National Opera Orchestra,
English National Opera Chorus
Period: Baroque Written: 1724; London, England
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Get it for Baker and MacKerrasOctober 11, 2013By D. DeGeorge (Ellicott City, MD)See All My Reviews"This is an old production of Julius Caesar. Thats right, not exactly Giulio Cesare, because indeed this one is presented in English. I have mixed feelings about hearing the opera in English. On the one hand, up until relatively recently, especially outside the U. S., it has been customary to present operas in the language of the audience, not necessarily in the original language. Since opera is drama and was originally written for audiences who could be presumed to understand it, this is perfectly justifiable. On the other hand, the music was shaped by the original language; and it can never be quite the same when translated, which is why translated opera has gone out of style, and sub- or sur-titled productions have replaced it. One of the central conceits of opera, with a few exceptions, is that the whole business is sung, including the dialog between arias (recitative). Although I have accumulated considerable experience in watching opera, I have to confess that I am still somewhat embarrassed to hear banal everyday conversation and routine plot points sung in English. (Operas written in English from the outset, such as Benjamin Brittens, dont carry such a big cringe factor for me.) If this happens to make you uncomfortable also, you might factor that into your decision whether to own an English-language version of this opera Janet Bakers portrayal of Julius Caesar is what keeps this presentation alive. Ironically, she acts a more convincingly masculine Caesar than at least one countertenor whom Ive heard in the role; that is due both to better acting and to the strength of her voice. Few modern-day countertenors can match either the vocal power of a female mezzo or that of the original castrati for whom these roles were written. James Bowman, as Ptolemy, shows that a countertenor can be fairly strong, but he isn't so good in the acting department. The remainder of the cast performs well, but not with great distinction. Conductor Charles Mackerras is fine; and, though using modern instruments, he gives at least a nod toward Baroque period practice, an approach that works particularly well for me but that will disappoint purists. Im not sure about the orchestra; the TV-studio acoustic was deadly dead and could probably make any orchestra sound bad. The production values, alas, almost sink this DVD. It was videotaped in a TV studio without an audience. Although there have been perfectly wonderful films made of opera, obviously without audiences, this is different: a very stagy production with no cinematic values, one in which it feels as if there should be an audience. Handel operas are completely aria-driven, and cast into a form designed to evoke applause after each singer has made his or her splash. It really does seem strange to hear dead silence after an artist of Janet Bakers talents completes a thrilling execution of all the vocal acrobatics Handel wrote to such wonderful musical effect. I suppose the only solution is to have some guests over and applaud the screen. Making things worse, almost every aspect is dated, and not in a good way: both the audio and video are of 1984 TV quality, not up to contemporary standards for DVDs (forget HD!). On top of that, this type of clunky stage direction is no longer acceptable in modern opera houses. (The acting isn't bad, though, under the circumstances; and the sets and costumes are sumptuous to the extent that the poor video allows one to appreciate them.) In spite of the many things I dont like about this presentation, I have to come to the question of alternatives. The pioneering production of the just-now-defunct New York City Opera, with Beverly Sills, back 1967, is barely worth having even as an historical document, as it is offensive to hear Caesar performed by a baritone, an octave below where Handel wrote the part. (I dare to mention a CD as an alternative because the video and staging on this DVD dont add that much anyway.) Looking at customer reviews of other options, I see that every cast has significant holes in it. If the Glyndebourne 2005 performance, available both as DVD and Blu-ray, had had Natalie Dessay as Cleopatra (like the Mets recent performance of the same production), Id recommend it almost without hesitation, while recognizing that the shenanigans inserted by director David McVicar seem silly to some. Still, this Glyndebourne production has another sparkling Cleopatra, Daniele de Niese, and the inimitable countertenor Christopher Dumaux as Tolomeo. So whats not to like? Unfortunately, its Caesar himself, sung by Sarah Connolly. So both incarnations of the Glyndebourne production are saddled with lackluster Caesars (not that the Mets version is likely ever to appear on disc anyway). There is also a highly rated version with the wonderful countertenor Andreas Scholl, which, regretfully, I have not seen either. So why am I off on this tangent of giving second-hand reviews? Only because they lead me to the conclusion that maybe this old 1984 TV production isn't such a bad option after all; and Baker is glorious."Report Abuse
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