Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Handel - Giulio Cesare |
Glyndebourne Opera Festival 2006
Actors: William Christie, Sarah Connolly, Angelika Kirchschlager, Danielle de Niese, Christophe Dumaux
Directors: David McVicar, Robin Lough
Genres: Indie & Art House, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
HANDEL:GUILIO CESARE - DVD Movie
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Ravishing Music, Delightful Staging
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 09/19/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This production of Handel's 'Giulio Cesare' was a box-office and critical triumph at the Glyndebourne Festival, as it well deserved to be. I'll get to the music later, but first let me rave about the theatrical staging It's 305 minutes of spellbinding Entertainment! It has everything: pathos and passion, wit, visual splendor, a seductive Cleopatra voluptuous enough to be plausible as the most beautiful woman in history, Vegas-worthy strutting and dancing, well choreographed swordplay, outrageous gender-nuanced camp humor, a beefcake acrobat, an onstage fiddler, and marvelous acting by all the principals. This is not the stand-and-belt stereotypical opera of the Age of Divasaurs and Pachytenors. This is Baroque opera in full crowd-rousing mode, as Handel's original 1724 production must have been, since that production was also a box-office success, revived in 1725, 1730, and 1732, and also staged in Paris, Hamburg, and Brunswick. If all of Handel's operas had been as well-attended as 'Giulio Cesare', odds are that he could have remained true to his First Love - Italian Opera - and not have been forced to compose music for pious pastiches by Charles Jennons in the barbarous English tongue.
The love affair of Caesar and Cleopatra has been transported from imperial Roman times to a setting in the British Raj, circa 1910, with the Roman legions in redcoat regimentals and the subservient locals in costumes that blend Egypt and Punjab. It's a concept that works well for me, apt historically and dramatically, considering that Handel wrote for an audience of rising Brrrritish world-conquerers. One would not have seen togas on a baroque opera stage in 1724, I hope everyone realizes. This is a modernizing production -- "Eurotrash" for some hide-bound conservatives-- that truly expands and enhances the 'content' of the libretto and the music.
Caesar, sung by soprano Sarah Connolly, is a foppish, starchy gentleman/officer -- a character straight from the pages of a Harry Flashman novel. He's a bit of a poof, yet calmly secure in his Sahib mastery and brave as a schoolboy on the fields of Eton. Connolly manages to look quite masculine in an epicene upper-class fashion, and she sings gloriously. The role of Caesar has the widest diversity of musical affects, from military bravura to love-torn rapture to birdsong glee. Connolly renders them all, eventually with apomb enough to make even a 'soprano' Caesar quite a dominant, heroic presence.
Ptolmey is sung by countertenor Christophe Dumaux; he's an odious, corrupt, cruel slimebag, this descendent of Alexander's general, and Dumaux makes him effectively creepy. His right-had villain, Achilla, is sung by baritone Christopher Maltman, the only non-trebel voice in the cast. Maltman is a skillful foil, musically, to all those high voices, and he acts his tough-guy role convincingly.
Cornelia, the widow of murdered Pompey the Great, is sung by alto Patricia Bardon, while her impetuous son Sextus is sung superbly and acted powerfully by soprano Angelika Kirschschlager. Their troubles at the hands of Ptolmey and Achilla form a sub plot almost as compelling as the 'hooking up' of Caesar and Cleopatra, and their duet in the first act is one of the pinnacles of Handel's composition. It's also a sterling example of stage director David McVicar's witty attention to detail; mother and son sing their poignant duet in the posture of a Michelangelo Pieta. They're so good vocally, especially Kirschschlager, that they'd steal the show if the other principals weren't equally good. Kirschschlager has the finest voice per se, the finest physical instrument, of the cast.
But the show-stealer, as the recorded enthusiasm of the audience proves, is Danielle de Niese in the role of Cleopatra. De Niese is gorgeous, as beautiful of face and form as the actress Halle Berry, whom she resembles. She also vivacious, sexy, agile; she dances and prances as well as any hoofer in a Broadway musical, and she can convey anguish, despair, or anger just as well as allure. It's an odd phenomenon, which you can see in the reviews of d Niese's Handel showcase CD, that her rapid success and/or her physical charms seem to provoke some people into ridiculous diatribes -- one-star reviews --about her vocal technique. "She's no Beverly Sills" they howl. Well, thank goodness! Sills completely lacked the historically-informed vocal technique to sing Handel. De Niese does not have a voice per se of the quality of Kirschschlager's, but then neither does Sarah Connolly, Both of them amply compensate by their control of their voices, that is, by their polished baroque technique. De Niese has three major virtues: She has excellent tuning, something that Kathleen Battle, for instance, never learned. She makes expressive use of her control of dynamics, something Cecilia Bartoli or Renee Fleming often fail to do. And she deeply understands baroque ornamentation, her graces, trills, and cadences are always 'integrated' into her phrasings, making musical sense of a sort that Joan Sutherland or even the sublime Janet Baker never approached. To denigrate her singing as 'technically undeveloped' is bizarre. One make think she was running for Congress against a darling of the Tea Party blatherskates.
Music? Oh yeah, this IS an opera, not just a stage spectacular. 'Giulio Cesare' is a ravishing score, still composed in the style of Handel's Roman cantatas, calling for flamboyant vocal virtuosity. I can hardly imagine a more perfect cast for it than Connolly, Kirschschlager, Bardon, and d Niese. The orchestral writing is equally flamboyant, with colorful obbligatos for flutes and natural horns. Conductor Bill Christie brings out the elegance and complexity of the score without any twitch of academicism. In fact, he lets the music and the instruments be playful. He doesn't need to be cautious; the musicians of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment handle their 'period instruments' as skillfully as any opera orchestra of 20th C instruments in the world. And if you still cling to the troglodytic notion that Baroque instruments lack the richness or power of modern, just listen closely. You'll be disabused.
Fortunately, the sound recording is equal to the quality of the musical performance. Voices and orchestra are well in balance, equally 'present'. The camera work is also first rate, a good mix of long shots and close-ups, with good editing, nothing distracting or overdone, totally supportive of the singing and acting. This is a magnificent DVD, one of the most excellent filmings of an opera I've ever watched and heard."
Outstanding Production Mixed with Fact, Fiction, and Humor
Charles Beck | Framingham State College, MA | 09/24/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is one of the most sensational opera productions available on DVD. The entire cast is very engaging in terms of their singing and acting. Sarah Connolly sings and acts admirably as Cesare, even though the real Cesare probably didn't have a contralto voice. The attractive soprano, Angelika Kirchschlager, is very convincing in her male role as Pompey's son, Sesto, who wants to revenge his father's brutal murder. Patricia Bardon, as Sesto's distraught mother, Cornella, sings several very sensitive songs. The altos or countertenors are also very convincing and add humor to their roles.
Danielle di Niese, as Cleopatra, is absolutely sensational. Clearly, she has the most outstanding arias to perform, including two Handel classics of intense sorrow, "Se pieta di me non senti" and "Piangero la sorte mia." She also sings a lively and happy aria upon learning that Cesare is still alive, "Da tempeste il legno infranto" which calls for a demanding series of trills and runs. De Niese doesn't miss a beat as she high steps about in a tantalizing manner. Note how she cleverly uses her hands and arms to accent the notes and trills. Clearly, she has the complete package and would have made Cleopatra both proud and envious--including an outstanding voice, charming and expressive acting ability, along with beautiful looks. Note to the Metropolitan Opera: If you want to begin attracting a larger and younger audience, sign this dynamic soprano for several productions each season and turn her loose.
Incidentally, don't miss the insightful interviews on disk three with three of the leading singers, the stage director, and conductor. The stage director provides a rather convincing argument as to why Handel would probably have approved of this production, including the choreography and the Bollywood gestures. This extra is listed under the unexpected title, "Entertainment is not a dirty word." We learn that the stage director and conductor were just as critical in producing this remarkable production as were the singers.
And now for a few thoughts regarding history, fact, fiction, and humor. Our knowledge of Cesare and Cleopatra comes primarily from the Greek historian Plutarch. Cleopatra's family, the Ptolemy's came from Greece and the siblings plotted against each other to see who would rule Egypt. This production integrates some facts along with a strong measure of fiction and humor. For example, Plutarch tells us that Cesare was, in fact, repulsed by the sight of the decapitated remains of his rival for power, Pompey. However, he doesn't comment on whether Cesare liked to stroll about making bird-like whistles. Even though Plutarch wasn't present, he asserts that Cleopatra was unrolled in a carpet in front of Cesare. However, it's highly unlikely that the real Cleopatra had the voice to sing a ravishing aria titled "V'adoro, pupille" to charm Cesare. It's also unlikely that the real Cleopatra paraded about in cabaret attire and deposited her umbrella in an urn containing Pompey's ashes. However, these moments of humor add a delightful touch to a plot that tends to be rather somber.
Finally, are there any shortcomings to this production? Very few from my point of view and they are not particularly significant in light of such an outstanding performance. In terms of set and costume design, it does seem rather odd to see warships and blimps instead Egyptian feluccas (sailboats) and Roman ships in the background. And it's rather difficult to visualize Cesare and his troops dressed in British uniforms. I confess that I fail to see the logic of transposing ancient and exotic Egypt to the period of British occupation of Egypt in the late 19th century. But unless you're a strict traditionalist, these whims shouldn't be terribly disconcerting.