Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Cooperstown and the Hood

Glimmerglass Festival continues its string of world premiere youth operas with a wholly enchanting production of Ben Moore and Kelly Rourke’s Robin Hood.

Glimmerglass Oklahoma: Yeow!

Director Molly Smith knew just how to best succeed at staging the evergreen classic Oklahoma! for Glimmerglass Festival.

La pietra del paragone in Pesaro

Impeccable casting — see photos. Three new generation Italian buffos brought startling new life to Pier Luigi Pizzi’s 2002 production of Rossini’s first major comedy (La Scala, 1812).

An Invitation to Travel: Christiane Karg and Malcolm Martineau at the Proms

German soprano Christiane Karg invited us to accompany her on a journey during this lunchtime chamber music Prom at Cadogan Hall as she followed the voyages of French composers in Europe and beyond, and their return home.

Schoenberg's Gurrelieder at the Proms - Sir Simon Rattle

Prom 46: Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, Simon O'Neill, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Karen Cargill, Peter Hoare, Christopher Purves and Thomas Quasthoff. And three wonderful choirs - the CBSO Chorus, the London Symphony Chorus and Orfeó Català from Barcelona, with Chorus Master Simon Halsey, Rattle's close associate for 35 years.

Le Siège de Corinthe in Pesaro

That of Rossini (in French) and that of Lord Byron (in English, Russian, Italian and Spanish), the battles of both Negroponte (1470) and of Missolonghi (1826) re-enacted amidst massive piles of plastic water bottles (thousands of them) that collapsed onto the heroine at Mahomet II's destruction of Corinth.

Dunedin Consort perform Bach's St John Passion at the Proms

John Butt and the Dunedin Consort's 2012 recording of Bach's St John Passion was ground-breaking for it putting the passion into the context of a reconstruction of the original Lutheran Vespers service.

Collision: Spectra Ensemble at the Arcola Theatre

‘Asteroid flyby in October: A drill for the end of the world?’ So shouted a headline in USA Today earlier this month, as journalist Doyle Rice asked, ‘Are we ready for an asteroid impact?’ in his report that in October NASA will conduct a drill to see how well its planetary defence system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth.

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

David Daniels (Cesare), Danielle de Niese (Cleopatra), Maïte Beaumont (Sesto), Patricia Bardon (Cornelia), Christophe Dumaux (Tolomeo), Wayne Tigges (Achilla), Gerald Thompson (Nireno). Conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm. Production by David McVicar.
04 Dec 2007

Giulio Cesare in Chicago

Peter Schickele, channeling P.D.Q. Bach, was wont to say, “Most classical scholars were unaware Iphigenia was ever in Brooklyn … and I think the cantata, Iphigenia in Brooklyn, does for Iphigenia what the Vinland Map did for Leif Ericsson.”

G. F. Handel: Giulio Cesare in Egitto
Lyric Opera of Chicago. Performance of November 19, 2007

David Daniels (Cesare), Danielle de Niese (Cleopatra), Maïte Beaumont (Sesto), Patricia Bardon (Cornelia), Christophe Dumaux (Tolomeo), Wayne Tigges (Achilla), Gerald Thompson (Nireno). Conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm. Production by David McVicar.

Above: David Daniels in the title role and Danielle de Niese as Cleopatra star in the David McVicar-directed production of Julius Caesar, part of Lyric Opera of Chicago's 2007-08 season. Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago.

 

So also for those unaware that Caesar and Cleopatra ever visited Chicago: Under the auspices of Handel and the Lyric Opera, they came, they saw, and they kept local opera-goers happily glued to their seats for nearly five hours at a stretch.

A lot of the credit for this goes to David McVicar, who admits the first objective of the production he designed for the Glyndebourne Festival (and which, truth to tell, fits a bit awkwardly in a house twice the size of Glyndebourne and three times the size of any theater Handel ever wrote for) was to entertain. Basing his interpretation on parallels between Rome’s conquest of Egypt (and Cleopatra’s conquest of Caesar) and red-coated Britain’s occupation of Egypt around 1900 (and the Bollywood dance-ical sensibility in movies now made in the former British Raj), he has given us an all-singing and usually dancing spectacle that puts anything on Broadway to shame for special effects, never mind the contrast of Handel’s sublime melodies to anything pop. Too, the singers here, besides being as attractive, athletic and showy as anyone in Mumbai, fill the enormous venue without microphones.

A few spoilsports did grumble that the jokiness sometimes got in the way of their pleasure in Handel (though few of the jokes occur at serious, semi-tragic moments) and the more delicate ornamentation of the baroque line which is so necessary a part of Handel style often got lost in the expanses of Chicago, but still: five hours of baroquerie on a Monday night, and they stayed in droves!

Giulio Cesare is probably the most popular of Handel’s forty operas. There are two good reasons for this: the opera concerns the affair between two personalities whose reputations still linger in the popular consciousness (in contrast, how much do you really know — or are excited at the prospect of learning — about Deidamia, Amadis or Lotario?), and more important, the libretto is first rate, tracing the character development of its six principals, aria by aria, until they succeed or fail to grow into triumphant success: Cesare, the Roman conqueror, must discover that he has a heart; Cleopatra, the amoral pin-up, must fall truly in love and learn the courage and empathy that will suit a reigning monarch; Sesto, a child when we first meet him, must mature into a Roman warrior, capable of defending his mother and avenging his father; Cornelia must learn to survive her grief at her husband’s murder; and Tolomeo and Achilla, the conniving and dishonorable Greco-Egyptians, must learn sincerity, courage and honor — which they signally fail to do, meeting their proper rewards. It’s didactic and old-fashioned, but it is not (as so many baroque libretti are) haphazard: genuine tests are met or failed here, the characters move on or die, and the action is clear and constant. Revivals in days past (but not long past) often rearranged and interpolated music, making mincemeat of Handel’s clarity, but the days when audiences accepted this and shrugged off their confusion are happily behind us.

Those familiar with the DVD of the McVicar production will also be familiar with his Cleopatra, Cornelia and Tolomeo, Mmes. de Niese and Bardon and M. Dumaux. The interpretations of all three have deepened emotionally while the athletic feats of de Niese and Dumaux remain jaw-dropping and tireless. My problem with Ms. de Niese, so lovely, so charming, so healthy, so inexhaustible, so eager to conquer the world (isn’t that teenaged Cleopatra all over? was even Vivien Leigh in slinky silk — in the classic film of Shaw’s play — a sexier kitten in the role?) is that it is never clear to me that the deeper emotions, the discovery of her own heart in such arias as “Piangero la sorte mia” which are the heart of the opera, mean much of anything but breath control to this youthful singer. In Handel’s operas, fast arias like “Da tempesta” and Cesare’s “Quel torrente che cade” excite the newcomers, but the slow ones express the emotional truth of the work, and de Niese does not yet — or, perhaps, in a show as energetic as the McVicar staging, can’t — reveal them, or demonstrate that she appreciates them. There is time for her to deepen, however; for the present, she’s fun to hear and an awful lot of fun to look at.

Mr. Dumaux still does backflips and cartwheels as Tolomeo, as on the DVD, but his singing is becoming a thing to take pleasure in as well. It is appropriate that he is more the willful tyrant than the spoiled brat, since this production restores so much music that is usually cut — both Tolomeo’s lust for power, vengeance and Cornelia, and Cornelia’s and Sesto’s triumph at his destruction get more play than they usually do. This extends the evening considerably, but giving Cornelia her one joyous aria saves Bardon, as Cornelia, from a part only a Stephanie Blythe (or a Maureen Forrester) could save from tedium. Bardon’s pleasant voice lacks the personality of those ladies; she needs that dollop of energy at the end.

Maïte Beaumont, the Sesto, has a bright, clear alto, quite exciting in adolescent triumph but also touchingly vulnerable in the self-pitying introspection of “Care speme.” She also plays a young boy credibly; I’d love to hear her Cherubino or Oscar.

GC_LOC2.pngDavid Daniels, in the title role, watches as Wayne Tigges, as Achillas, presents the head of Pompey in Act I of Julius Caesar, part of Lyric Opera of Chicago's 2007-08 season. Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago.

David Daniels, probably the world’s foremost Cesare, undertakes the title role (as he has nearly everywhere else in the last ten years). This is a role — Julius Caesar, for gosh sakes! Soldier! Lover! Statesman! Bestselling author! whose name became a synonym for monarch! — that, for me, cannot be credibly impersonated by a woman, though I never saw Baker or Troyanos undertake it. Daniels definitely plays a most masculine Cesare, all right, but his luscious voice is slow to warm up. Perhaps the vast spaces of this opera house are unkind to his voice (which is not vast), his lapidary phrasing, his sensitivity to the meaning of the words he sings, but even in smaller houses I have not been impressed by his singing of the first act of Cesare. The arias might be tossed off by any competent countertenor — even the divine “Va tacito e nascosto” (staged by McVicar as a warriors’ pavane, with rival armies stomping in time to its studly, ominous march-time) does not bring out the special throb of Daniels at his best.

By Act II, amorous arias and catastrophic turns of the plot seem to warm him to the task. He takes off during the battle royal with violin that is “Se infiorito” — but then, another feature of this singer is the delight he takes in having a partner-adversary to strike sparks: grand duets and obbligatos always give us Daniels at his best, and he always shows his partner to advantage too — he is a colleague as well as a sportsman, and here he also a lover — his scenes with de Niese get quite steamy.

Emmanuelle Haïm earned full marks for leading a much-cut-down Lyric Opera orchestra to a baroque sound quality startling in its precision the day before performing Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten — but no doubt the Lyric Opera, like most opera house orchestras the world over — are getting used to the requirements of the baroque revival. So is the Chicago audience, which saw few empty spaces as the hours went blissfully by.

John Yohalem

Click here for audio and video courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):