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Georg Friedrich HANDEL (1685-1759)
Giulio Cesare (1724) [223:00]
Cesare: Sarah Connolly
Cornelia: Patricia Bardon
Sesto: Angelika Kirchschlager
Cleopatra: Danielle de Niese
Tolomeo: Christophe Dumaux
Achilla: Christopher Maltman
Nireno: Rachid Ben Abdeslam
The Glyndebourne Chorus
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/William Christie
Stage Director: David McVicar
rec: August, 2005, Glyndebourne Opera House
Entertainment is not a Dirty Word - documentary about the opera including interviews with William Christie, David McVicar and the cast [50:00]
Danielle de Niese and the Glyndebourne experience - an informal portrait of Danielle de Niese in her first-ever Glyndebourne season [22:00]
Sound format: DTS Surround, LPCM stereo
Subtitle languages: EN, FR, DE, ES, IT
Picture format: 16:9
Picture standard: PAL
Region code: 0 (all regions)
OPUS ARTE OA 0950 D [295:00]



Handel’s Giulio Cesare - the full title is Giulio Cesare in Egitto - is one of the composer’s longest and most musically successful operas, chock full of delightful arias. First performed in 1724, it tells the story of Julius Caesar attempting to take control of Egypt. This production, set in a different imperial time - when the British were there - combines both the sedate and the extravagant to tell this story of Caesar’s attempt to defeat his enemy Pompey.

As usual, William Christie's impeccable musicianship makes this work an aural delight, and his choice of soloists is impeccable. Sarah Connolly is brilliant as Caesar, looking quite masculine, actually, and embracing the role with a unique level of subtlety. Danielle de Niese as Cleopatra is sexy and enticing, though her “acting” tends to go a bit overboard at times - one is reminded of silent movies, and how actors, with no words to express their feelings, had nothing else to work with. Niese would have been far more convincing with a bit of restraint, though her facial contortions may not have been as evident to theatre-goers watching the actual opera. This is one of the risks of watching operas on DVD: close-ups give a totally different view of the stage action, and skew it toward a televisual interpretation, rather than a view of a distant stage. 

The pair of Cornelia (Patricia Bardon) and her son Sesto (Angelika Kirchschlager) are excellent, especially Kirchschlager in his (her) search for revenge and eventual success.  And Christophe Dumaux is a fine, sneering Tolomeo.

While one reviewer of the original production called this an “amalgam of political psychodrama and Bollywood musical”, David McVicar’s staging, in my opinion, sits on the fence between sedate and exaggerated, with scenes of swordplay, gritty costumes, blood and bodies. Ranging from slapstick to humorous, from serious to sedate, he avoids the overly cute type of production often seen in operas today, and the transposition from the original era of Caesar to the British Imperial period, is both successful and contextually functional. Making the link between the Handel of Italian operas - in language and in subject - and his Britishness - as a composer and performer living in England for much of his life - this Giulio Cesare works both as music and theatre.

The camera work is sedate, and avoids the oft-used “arty” angles and cuts that some modern productions seem to require to attract the MTV generation. This work is filmed with great taste, more like theatre than a musical production.

I do have one gripe, and this is the curmudgeon in me reacting not only to this film, but to operas in general these days: why do the audience feel it necessary to applaud after almost every aria? Can’t they wait until the end, or at least the end of each act? This is becoming increasingly common both on DVDs and on recordings of operas, and, while it gives more of a “live” feeling, it grates.

This is a long opera, though, coming in at just under four hours, and is unlikely to be something that you’ll watch in one sitting. “Four hours of Handel, in the wrong hands, can be a trial,” says Sarah Connolly in the documentary about the work. While it engages and, at times entrances, even this fine production cannot keep one from wanting to take a break after a couple of hours. It’s not a trial, but it is indeed long. Successful musically - and this certainly deserves a CD release - and theatrically, this work is in danger of feeling interminable after a while. Take two evenings to watch it, and another, perhaps, to watch the “extra features”: a documentary in the “making-of” style about the cast, and another shorter one about Danielle de Niesse - though you might be better off listening to her sing, rather than the ditzy guided tour of her house.

Kirk McElhearn


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