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Giulio Cesare - Handel (Glyndebourne Festival) [DVD] 
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David McVicar's production of Giulio Cesare manages to combine serious insight with entertainment, bringing Handel's masterpiece to life in a powerful, convincing and highly intelligent way. In every line of the complex narrative the subtle nuances are apparent, reflecting perfectly the transparent and exquisite nature of Handel's musical expression.
Filmed in High Definition and recorded in true surround sound, the outstanding singing of the all-star cast, led by a superb Sarah Connolly, and the vivid playing of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under the energising baton of William Christie reveal the colour and dramatic character of Handel's music in a most delightful manner.
"...a lively and imaginative production, directed by the ever resourceful David McVicar, enchanted and amused..there was so much good acting, often whilst singing difficult and controlled coloratura." (Musical Opinion)
"Christie conducts Handel beguilingly - in fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that nobody does Handel better. Christie drew brisk playing from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, crisp and punchy, yet he also carried the slow tempos with magical stillness. But the performance was about much more than sound alone: underneath the OAE's sheen there was an internalized musical depth to each of the numbers." (Opera)
"Extravagantly laid out on three DVDs, the Opus Arte version is important in offering a fine period performance of this most popular of the Handel operas. William Christie conducts the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and an outstanding cast in an account at once scholarly, lively and refreshing, a live recording of the 2005 production at Glyndebourne." (The Penguin Guide)
"...the irrepressible Danielle de Niese (who is accorded a delightful 22-minute narrative on her Glyndebourne experience among the extras here). Her vocal command and stage presence are spectacular in every sense..." (Gramophone)
CastSarah Connolly (Cesare)Angelika Kirchschlager (Sesto)Danielle de Niese (Cleopatra)Christophe Dumaux (Tolomeo)Patricia Bardon (Cornelia)Christopher Maltman (Achilla)
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment; William ChristieStage Director: David McVicar
Catalogue Number: OA0950DDate of Performance: 2005Running Time: 305 minutesSound: DTS Surround; LPCM StereoAspect Ratio: 16:9 AnamorphicSubtitles: EN, FR, DE, ES, ITLabel: Opus Arte
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I was not able to see the production at Glyndebourne, but saw it (semi-staged) at the Royal Albert Hall. de Niese's voice filled that vast space and had every member of the audience spell-bound. Of course she has the voice of an angel -- you can hear that yourself from the CD recordings -- but this DVD gives you some idea of her stage-presence, charisma, and acting ability. In the final duet at the Albert Hall, the way she looked adoringly into the eyes of Caesar, you could honestly believe that she was in love with him (despite the fact that he was being sung by a woman!)
Some readers may imagine that male listeners have simply fallen for her physical charms, and no-one would deny that she is very easy on the eyes, but when I was queueing for the Albert Hall I met an elderly female friend who had seen the production a few weeks before at Glyndeboune, and was bringing another female friend to hear it again. So this is not just 'one for the boys'. And just to prove that I am not blinded by an infatuation, I may add that I heard her some months later in St John's, Smith Square, London, and she sounded pretty awful: her voice is much to big for that small space. I also do not really like her French recording of Semele, recorded some years earlier, but she seems to be getting better as the years pass ...
Daniella de Niese's vocal command and stage presence are spectacular, but I must reject gimmicks such as watching her parading about in cabaret attire and finally depositing her umbrella in the urn containing Pompeo's ashes. What should have been a gripping drama of political treachery, betrayal, vengeance, seduction, fidelity and heroism, has partly been turned into a cabaret farce. You will look in vain for depth, nobility and heroism, all of which are part of Handel's opera. On the other hand, there is much to enjoy - Cleopatra's apparently superficial flirtation with Cesare blossoms into a love affair and her early vanity is absolved by her poignant lamentation when she believes that all hope is lost. It is a deeply felt performance with plenty of accomplished and tender Handelian singing. However, de Niese's soprano is not to everyone’s taste – I find her timbre a little shrill and she has a tendency to slide into notes. Accomplished and tender singing also comes from Patricia Bardon's moving Cornelia and Angelika Kirchschlager's Sesto in 'Son nata a lagrimar - Son nato a sospirar' in Act 1. You can't help but admire an interpretation that sounds so deeply felt.
The best approach to staging Baroque operas seems to be to stick to the tradition in terms of singing and period instrumentation. It is not that all the necessary qualities are not already there in Handel's compositions that captures the sentiments of its characters so well, but a modern staging must allow the audience to see them visualized.
A radical new approach to directing Baroque operas would be moving more towards the idea of respecting the original period and libretto in order to get as close as possible to the composer's intentions, but such fidelity to the source, putting the work above the director's ego, is not currently fashionable in opera productions
It is a paradox that while singing and playing are as authentic as can be, they are not interested in recreating the theatrical aesthetic of the Baroque opera. However, William Christie, who has done more than anyone to introduce modern audiences to the delight of Baroque opera, ensures that Handel's masterpiece is brought to life in a powerful, convincing and thought-through way.
Aside from my personal feelings about the outrage, there were two consequences for the performance. Firstly, at least 10% of the seats were empty - something almost unheard of - because so many of those coming down from London were unable to travel. Secondly, in response, everybody involved gave more than 100%, to put on an astonishing performance.
I have recently bought 5 copies of the DVD All but one will be given to friends and relations around the world. But I have already played my own copy several times.
I can only agree with the two rave reviews already written. But these were really about the live performances they saw rather than the DVDs. These are filmed at HD quality, over - I think - the last two performances. And it was clear to me that the production had developed beyond what I saw.
Also there is a large amount of additional features included.
These range from a very helpful visual synopsis of the plot, and a number of photos, to a couple of enthralling interviews. The first is with Danielle de Niese - the young American singer playing Cleopatra, who deservedly stole the show - and her substantial and highly entertaining account of the Glyndebourne experience and what it meant for her. The second, longer and, for the opera lover, even more fascinating, is a discussion with the major participants, including Conductor William Christie and Stage Director David McVicar.
I do not believe that a better opera DVD at present exists.
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