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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.