Handel: Giulio Cesare
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Handel s popular opera, Giulio Cesare, is named after the great Roman emperor, but its most memorable character is Cleopatra. In this production by Laurent Pelly from Paris splendid Palais Garnier, the role of the Egyptian queen is assumed for the first time by Natalie Dessay, described by the Telegraph as a supreme vocal enchantress.
Giulio Cesare is the opera that offers a dazzling array of dramatic situations and moods with music to match and the seductive and captivating character of Cleopatra exemplifies its (to quote Shakespeare) infinite variety . Natalie Dessay chose to make her stage debut in the role of the Egyptian queen at Paris s Palais Garnier, an opera house of legendary splendor and beauty and, seating an audience of less than 2,000, well suited to the intimacy of baroque opera.
Director Laurent Pelly, who notably directed Dessay in the sparkling production of Donizetti s La Fille de régiment that was seen in London, New York and Vienna was praised for his witty and stylized conception of Handel s opera. The Wall Street Journal wrote The curtain opens on the vast storeroom of an Egyptian museum, stuffed to the rafters with statuary and paintings, crates and frames. As a guard reads his newspaper, a statue of Julius Caesar comes alive plaster gray from top to toe, including his Roman soldier's garb. Caesar bursts into song, and sculpted heads and busts aligned on storage shelves follow suit, singing along in chorus. We're off into the wacky world of director Laurent Pelly's new production of Handel's 1724 Giulio Cesare at the Paris Opéra ... there is never a dull moment. The newspaper went on to praise the excellence of the cast: not just the stellar Ms. Dessay but also counter-tenor Lawrence Zazzo as Caesar, mezzo-soprano Varduhi Abrahamyan as Cornelia and especially mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard as Sesto.
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The prop warehouse is an interesting way to bring visual interest to this Handel opera: especially pertinent as the principal soprano does wrap herself in a rug. Still, the prop men are frequently distracting. Constant physical movement can distract from the movement of the voice. It seems that directors don't trust us to be alone with the music.
The most important difference was that I am not put off by nontraditional productions. Among these there are, of course, plenty of not so good productions, but some great ones. IMHO this was a great one. I must have watched it fifteen times. I confess that I'm a big Dessay fan, but I think I can tell the difference between her great and not so good work. I think this may be one of her very best. By the way. Emmanuelle Haim and Laurent Pelly are also very good at what their parts were.