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

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

Il trittico, Opera Holland Park

Time was when many felt compelled to ‘make allowances’ for ‘smaller’ companies. Now, more often than not, the contrary seems to be the case, instead apologising for their elder and/or larger siblings: ‘But of course, it is far more difficult for House X, given the conservatism of its moneyed audience,’ as if House X might not actually attract a different, more intellectually curious audience by programming more interesting works.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Cecilia Bartoli as Cleopatra [Photo © Hans Jörg Michel courtesy of Salburger Festival]
05 Oct 2012

Cecilia Bartoli Comes, Divides and Conquers

Cleopatra, one of few female seductresses in operatic history to emerge not only alive but empowered in the final act, is a fitting role for Cecilia Bartoli in her first season as artistic director of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival.

G F. Handel: Giulio Cesare in Egitto

A review by Rebecca Schmid

Above: Cecilia Bartoli as Cleopatra [Photo © Hans Jörg Michel courtesy of Salburger Festival]

 

She has assembled a dynamite new production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto, which premiered in May and returned to the Summer Festival, with the early music ensemble Il Giardino Armonico under the Italian singer’s old friend Giovanni Antonini alongside a handpicked cast and the French-Dutch directing team Moshe Leiser/Patrice Caurier. The opera, which premiered at the King’s Theater in 1724, was one of Handel’s most popular in its time and still stands out from his other operas for its stylistic variety and gripping drama. A libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym adapts the story of Caesar’s amorous and political alliance with Cleopatra after his arrival in Egypt in 48-47 BC but changes historical details freely. He also packs in a high concentration of da capo arias in keeping with the taste of Londoners in the 18th century.

Handel’s writing for Cleopatra includes some of his most beloved numbers, and Bartoli meets expectations in this production (seen at the Haus für Mozart on August 27) with natural charisma and authority. Although her giggling first entrance bordered on kitsch in Leiser and Caurier’s bold vision of a modern-day Egypt occupied by the European Union, she managed to pull off their tongue-in-cheek direction as she pranced onstage in a leopard jacked and boots during her first aria “Non disperar, chi sa?,” playing with her unrivalled technique to manipulate coloratura passages for clear dramatic purpose. This ability made itself most apparent in the firework runs and carefully timed turns of “Dal Tempesta,” sung under an oil tower as the future pharaoh resolved her energy anew in the third act. Bartoli amused without affectation as a disguised servant, teasing the blue-suited bureaucrat, Caesar (Andreas Scholl) after her aria “V’adoro, pupille” in which takes off on a missile. Her slow aria “Piangero la sorte mia,” which she sings in captivity by her ruthless brother, Ptolomeo (Christoph Dumaux), brimmed with devastated emotion as she spun out silver threads of coloratura

Scholl, who sings as many arias as his female counterpart, impressed equally with the clear timbre and refined phrasing of countertenor as well as his caricature-like dramatic portrayal of the role. “Dall’ondoso periglio,” in which the Roman emperor prays to God to be reunited with the woman for whom he has grown so much affection, featured pearly cascades and pianissimi that floated sumptuously to the back of the theatre. The singing of acclaimed mezzo Anne Sofie von Otter was a model of legato and inner expression as Cornelia, the widow of Pompeo whom Ptolomeo has beheaded. Her chemistry with the rising star Philippe Jaroussky in the role of Cornelia’s son, Sestus, who slays the Egyptian pharaoh in revenge, was as touching as the musical polish they both brought to every moment onstage. Jarsoussky revealed impeccable taste in the ornamentation of the da capo to his aria “Cara speme, questo core.”

The voice of Dumaux was slightly less penetrating, but he gave a powerful account of his aria “Domero la tua fierezza” in which he declares that he will curb Cleopatra’s pride, his rival for the throne. He also executed some very athletic moves in his vindictive aria “Si, spietata, il tu rigore.” The baritone Ruben Drole was a strong-voiced Achilles, Ptolomeo’s advisor, and the alto Jochen Kowalski brought comic flair to the role of Nirena, Cleopatra’s maid. Peter Kalman made for a valiant Curio, Caesar’s tribune. The idiomatic articulation and richly nuanced performance of Il Giardino Armonico nearly asserted the ensemble as a character in its right. Antonini maintains a strong bass that nevertheless allows every instrument to sing. The musicians cried with Bartoli in her pleading aria “Se pieta di me non senti.”

Leiser and Caurier also deserve much credit for a staging that ingeniously updates the mix of comedy and tragedy in Handel’s opera, casting a critical eye toward modern European politics while allowing the singers to indulge in just the right amount of slapstick. I found myself laughing with the production rather than at it even through the most gregarious of gestures, when as when Caesar is given a pair of 3D glasses during the prelude to “V’adoro, pupille,” casting Cleopatra’s appearance as a scene within a scene. The burning tires, Christmas-lit oil tower, and final scene of a tank rolling onto the recreation of a cobblestoned street in Salzburg (sets by Christian Fenouillat) made for a biting but riotously amusing commentary on the current state of affairs. Even the dancing soldiers (choreography by Beate Vollack), whose classical moves contrasted paradoxically with their rifles, were perfectly in place. Costumes by Agostino Cavalca reflected the imaginative scope of the directors, with corn rows for Ptolomeo and a series of sexy costumes for Cleopatra in which the Intendantin still managed to preserve her class.

Rebecca Schmid

Click here for cast and production information.

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):