Handel Giulio Cesare

Carry on Cleo – a runaway success at Glyndebourne is turned into a great DVD

Record and Artist Details

Composer or Director: George Frideric Handel

Genre:

DVD

Label: Opus Arte

Media Format: Digital Versatile Disc

Mastering:

Stereo

Catalogue Number: OA0950D

Tracks:

Composition Artist Credit
Giulio Cesare, 'Julius Caesar' Glyndebourne Chorus
Alexander Ashworth
Christopher Maltman
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Angelika Kirchschlager
Christophe Dumaux
Patricia Bardon
William Christie
Rachid Ben Abdeslam
George Frideric Handel Composer
Sarah Connolly
Danielle de Niese
David McVicar’s 2005 staging, being revived this summer, provoked a deal of contrasting views among the critical fraternity but was adored by the Glyndebourne public. Chief cause of their delight was the overtly sexual, high-hoofing performance of Cleopatra by the irrepressible Danielle de Niese (who is accorded a delightful 22-minute narrative on her Glyndebourne experience among the extras here). Her vocal command and stage presence are spectacular in every sense, and from her first aria she utterly seduces her audience. McVicar took advantage of her attractive skills to build the opera around her personality.

We are here in the high noon of British imperialism and the Ottoman Empire, with Caesar more like a late-19th-century English general than a Roman emperor, and with the Egyptian milieu heavily underlined by milling extras, now always a not-altogether welcome feature of a McVicar production. They clutter the stage and draw attention away from the principals, although one has to admit that the highly disciplined and often captivating choreography is brilliantly executed within Robert Jones’s exotic sets. McVicar does at least allow the moments of serious drama to be played out without undue interference – I think of the deeply moving duet that closes Act 1 and Cleopatra’s ‘Piangerò’. Finally it has to be said that only Glyndebourne allows for the rehearsal time to prepare such a complex and ingenious staging.

The musical side of things is equally well prepared and thought-through under William Christie’s knowledgeable and commanding direction. He manages to balance with the same finesse and care the light and serious parts of the score, even if his love for Handel leads him to a few self-indulgently slow tempi. The OAE play lovingly and with period skills for him. By the time of this DVD recording, near the end of the run, the whole thing moves with eloquence matched by elegance.

De Niese sings her airy numbers as to the manner born, seconded by expertly erotic dancing. She manages most of the emotional substance of her sadder arias, but they sometimes seem wanting in the tonal weight ideally required. Sarah Connolly’s thoroughly believable Caesar is sung with her firm tone and well schooled mastery of Handelian style, including subtle embellishments. This wilful and imperial Caesar manages to change moods as his music demands.

Some of the most accomplished and tender Handelian singing comes from Patricia Bardon’s moving Cornelia and Angelika Kirchschlager’s concerned Sesto, although the latter does slightly overplay the character’s seemingly neurotic state of mind following his father’s brutal death. The young countertenor Christophe Dumaux playing Tolomeo is suitably brat-like and spoilt. He, like most of the cast, fulfils all the stringent demands of this very physical staging. Christopher Maltman makes Achilles as nasty as he should be. The sense of teamwork all round is confirmed in the interviews included in the extras. Robin Lough’s DVD direction is faultless.

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