Cesare through time

Hi, everyone! Today I am going back to our favorite topic in the world aka opera! As you might have noticed, I haven’t written any kind of review for a long time. And the reason is that there was no production which inspired me for that. But now I have a perfect opera and a brilliant staging that I really, really wanna talk about with you!!!  And it’s Handel’s «Giulio Cesare» from Metropolitan Opera!  
Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
This remarkable baroque masterpiece was originally presented to the audience at the Glyndebourne Festival in 2005. Eight years later Scottish opera director David McVicar staged the same production of «Giulio Cesare» at the Met. It’s one of his favorite operas because it has love, drama, comedy and, of course, wonderful music by Handel. How on earth could you resist that?
According to the libretto, the action is set in ancient Alexandria, in the times when Egypt was a Roman colony. McVicar has decided to interpret the plot in a slightly different way: he puts this story as the British invasion in India. But at the same time you can’t say that it belongs to only one historical period as the set, the costumes change very much - from ethnic outfits to modern dresses. Being inspired by Bollywood movies, McVicar plays with contrasts all the time and it concerns not just a visual side of this production but also a dramatic aspect, how the story develops during three acts: one minute you laugh and the next minute you cry. And that’s what makes this opera so vivid, entertaining and even breathtaking, though it lasts about four hours!
Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
I like the way the director uses the space: he makes the stage look long and deep and divides it with several curtains which is very helpful in changing sets between scenes. The production isn’t enriched with furniture: you see just one table or one bed. I personally love minimalism in opera staging. If it’s a smart production with a good cast, it will keep your attention strictly to performers, music and a story which, in my opinion, are the most important things in opera. Instead of furniture, Mr McVicar chooses other means to create a unique atmosphere on stage – choreography and supers.
Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
I’ve never imagined that choreography can play such an interesting part in a production! Usually, it’s a background in the scenes where, for instance, characters dance on the ball. But here it highlights emotions, inner thoughts of personages. At the beginning it seems odd but then you get the idea and enjoy this strange fusion of various art forms:). One of the most striking examples is when Cesare meets Tolomeo in his palace. Despite outwardly nice talking between opponents, in fact these two guys hate each other. And in aria «Va tacito e nascosto» Cesare tells Curio and the audience as well that he doesn’t trust Tolomeo anyway. During his singing, the Roman general dances against Tolomeo. At first, it's just Cesare and Tolomeo and later it’s Cesare against Tolomeo with his «little army of the allies» (who are other singers and supers). They dance the same choreographic figure between verses. The more the music repeats, the more the tension grows on stage.

As I’ve mention before David McVicar has got a lot of ideas for his production from Indian movies. And the dances are not an exception. Especially, the choreography for Nireno’s aria (who is Cleopatra's servant) in Act 2: all the gestures, poses are very similar to those you can find in any Bollywood film. But, of course, the headliner is Cleopatra. Almost every appearance of this heroine on stage is followed by an impressive aria along with an energetic dance number. Such scenes are, for example, «Tu la mia stella sei» or «Da tempeste il legno infranto». I couldn’t help smiling during these arias:). It looks very natural, helps the singer to show how overjoyed Cleopatra is at those moments.
The special appeal of this production is also supers. They play either warriors of Caesar’s army or Egyptian soldiers. Supers look like «animated mannequins» whose movements are very accurate and unemotional. Even though, their actions on stage range from simple standing to sort of dancing (like in scene 3 of Act 3 when Caesar sets off to find Cleopatra), in general, it adds so much to our impression from the performance! Supers accompany the main characters through thick and thin. They are their friends, servants, enemies. Their acting is in movements, gestures, sometimes on their faces. Without supers the production wouldn’t be so complete for me.
Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
I have to say, that thanks to the director’s thoughtful concept and talented artists, all the personages don’t look superficial. Though when I read the plot I thought that almost everyone (except Caesar maybe) was evil. Because from time to time they all want revenge or power and try to achieve these goals by all means. But I guess due to the comic aspect of this production you begin to sympathize all the characters from the very beginning. In some magical ways they make you understand their behaviour and the reasons behind it. The cast, including Natalie Dessay as Cleopatra, David Daniels as Cesare, Alice Coote in the role of Sesto, Christophe Dumaux, singing the part of Tolomeo, and Patricia Bardon as Cornelia, is marvellous!!! They deserve those standing ovations that they get during the curtain call. Everyone has a personality and uses his time on stage to demonstrate his/her vocal and artistic skills.
Natalie Dessay has already left the opera stage and «Giulio Cesare» at the Met is one of her last operatic performances. Natalie is A-D-O-R-A-B-L-E!!! Her Cleopatra is a flirty, cheerful, fragile and revengeful woman. She is a very complicated heroine and you can observe all the contradictions of hers during the opera. Besides, most of famous and beautiful arias belong to Cleopatra. Especially, I would highlight the one and only «Se pietà di me non senti» at the end of Act 2. This aria is a sort of a turning point in the opera cause previously you laughed most of the time and now you see that the flame of joy in Cleopatra’s eyes has gone out, the light colours of the story get darker. In that scene Natalie shows her great singing and great acting as well. She holds the audience’s attention during this long piece. Her eyes tell you everything about Cleopatra’s suffering. Just brava!!!
Cleopatra is awesome but with Tolomeo it’s a crazy duet! They have love-hate relationships and that’s definitely interesting to watch. Tolomeo is brilliantly sung by Christophe Dumaux. He is such a good actor! Dumaux plays an immature, nasty, silly villain so well, that when he was killed by his enemies, the entire auditorium cheerfully burst into applause:). I’ve never seen the reaction like this before! Don’t worry! At the curtain call he’s got the same amount of ovations, if not more:). I absolutely adore the interactions between Cleopatra and Tolomeo and the staging of «Piangero la sorte mia» in Act 3 is one of my favorite. I like how McVicar has interpreted the words, Handel’s music and turned it into the action: Cleopatra suffers cause she has no more supporters and apparently Tolomeo takes mercy on her; they could even make up but…the music gets furious, so does Cleopatra.  The Egyptian sovereign considers that life is unfair towards her. She tells her cruel brother that when she dies, her spirit will chase him forever. Being in anger, she shakes him back and forth and then he leaves her alone. This very moment when sympathy turns into confrontation is fascinating! It makes the storyline of these characters more complex, for a moment there is a hope that piece between them is possible but it was just a mirage…
Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
Cornelia and her son Sesto performed by Patricia Bardon and Alice Coote are probably the most suffering couple in the entire opera. They are tortured, beaten up, nevertheless, they still hope to revenge for Pompeo one day. Bardon and Coote have a very good chemistry as a mother and a son. One of the most memorable scenes with them is the duet at the end of Act 1. It’s full of despair and sorrow that deeply touches our hearts. Alice is amazing as a boy! She looks and moves like a teenager! Sesto is lucky to have brilliant arias, one of them is revengeful «L’angue offeso mai riposa». Coote makes all the passages, coloraturas sound so easy that you wish she’d never stop singing it! 
Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
The Great Emperor Julius Caesar is played by David Daniels.  It took some time for him to show his abilities as an actor cause during the first scenes he was not as impressive as the others. He portrays Caesar as a noble, strong and merciful man which, I think, is very true to the libretto. Daniels has sung his part well enough but honestly… I’ve expected more from him. Anyway, he got a lot of applause after each solo number. Daniels and Dessay interact on stage a lot. I’d love to mention a hilarious scene/aria «Al lampo dell'armi»: outside the garden (where Cleopatra and Caesar have a date) the crowd claims «Death to Caesar!»; Cleopatra reveals herself to Caesar and persuades him to run away to save his life. McVicar makes this long aria look very entertaining and funny: while Daniels eagerly sings all the difficult passages, Dessay tries to move him closer to the exit, begging to leave right now or otherwise he’ll be killed…but the emperor stays in the garden until he finishes his aria:).
So it’s a great production of a great opera! Handel hasn’t let me down again. He’s composed so many beautiful pieces for this opera that I won’t even count them! Handel was a real psychologist cause with his melodies he was able to transmit such a huge range of human emotions that his arias get an instantaneous response in our hearts. David McVicar preserves the gut of Handel’s music and visualizes it in a very captivating and smart way. «Giulio Cesare» from Metropolitan Opera is a must for any Handel fan, any baroque addict or for anyone who just starts his journey into the world of Handel’s music!

P.S. I’m definitely gonna watch «Cesare» from Glyndebourne (with Danielle de Niese and Sarah Connolly) cause there are a lot of positive feedbacks on that performance too. 


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