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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Giulio Cesare

The Met imports a British production of Händel's most famous opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Cocktails in Egypt: David Daniels (right) and Natalie Dessay as Caesar and Cleopatra
in the Met's new production of Giulio Cesare. Photo by Dan Rest © Lyric Opera of Chicago.
The Metropolitan Opera continues to showcase the performance and production of baroque opera. Here, the company imports David McVicar's 2005 production of Giulio Cesare (alternate title: Giulio Cesare in Egitto) to the big stage as a vehicle for countertenor David Daniels (in the title role) and soprano Natalie Dessay as Cleopatra. This is the last new production of the 2012-2013 season.

Despite the British origin of this work (it premiered in London in 1724) the plot of Giulio Cesare has nothing to do with Shakespeare or the ruler's assassination on the Ides of March. Handel's opera retells the doomed romance between the Egyptian queen and the Roman military leader. The two leads have great opportunity for florid vocal display, with eight arias each.

Giulio Cesare is not some rarity dusted off by historical archivists. The work is considered to be Händel's finest, with musical invention, multiple orchestras at one point and other innovations that made it the most popular  stage work in 18th centiry London. It was one of the first baroque works to be revived in the 20th century (in a version using a baritone Caesar.) The Met will present an authentic 18th centurty style performance, conducted by Harry Bickett.

Giulio Cesare opens April 4, 2013.

Recording Recommendations:
Concerto Köln cond. Rene Jacobs (harmonia mundi, 1992)
Cesare: Jennifer Larmore
Cleopatra: Barbara Schick
Tolomeo: Derek Lee Ragin
Yes, the price is steep but this is a whopper of a set: a four-disc absolutely complete account of this famous score with mezzo Jennifer Larmore in her prime in the title role.

Les Musiciens de Louvre cond. Marc Minkowski (DG Archiv, 2003)
Cesare:  Marljana Miijanovic
Cleopatra: Magdalena Kozena
Tolomeo: Bejun Mehta
This is a live recordng of the opera made in Vienna under Mr. Minkowski, a period performance specialist. What's valuable here is the sense of electricity and live theater that you get from this recording. A cast of fine young singers (including Magdalena Kozena as a rare mezzo Cleopatra) give excellent account of themselves.

Return to the 2012-2013 Metropolitan Opera Season Preview!

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