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

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

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):