Well sung and entertaining, a largely successful production if not my favourite performance of Guilio Cesare
Guilio Cesare is one of Handel's best, the music is sublime and the story is one that entertains and moves me, all good enough attributes in making a great opera. So of course anybody who loves Guilio Cesare would want any production they see to work. And on the most part, this Paris production did work very well. The Glyndebourne production is the best Guilio Cesare on DVD- I also put the Janet Baker and Andreas Scholl performances above this production but only just- but it is better than the mostly interesting but also rather frustrating Peter Sellars one.
Coming back to Paris', it is not quite a perfect performance. Ptolomeo's lasciviousness is taken too literally here, we know he is like that as a character but the constant hip grinding and crotch grabbing got very distracting after a while. Cristophe Dumaux in this role is better on the Glyndebourne DVD, he sings very well but the characterisation generally is lacking in menace and incisiveness. The Cornelia of Varduhi Abrahamyan is also vocally rather lightweight and she is more awkward than she is seductive.
However the production has a good idea going for it and, both in the costumes(Cleopatra's prosthetic breast may seem rather odd but considering as little attention is drawn to it it didn't present too much of a problem) and sets, looks good. As does the unobtrusive video directing and clear picture quality. The staging on the whole is intelligent and well thought out with a humorous touch, though the attempt to show Ptolomeo's character traits even more than already backfired. The sound is well balanced and sharp also, never becoming a liability for the vibrant and elegant orchestral playing and Emmanuelle Haim's light- hearted yet also passionate conducting.
Natalie Dessay makes for a Cleopatra that is both sexy and funky, and while there is bright agility in her singing she also sings in a heartfelt way especially in Piangerò La Sorte Mia. Lawrence Zazzo's Cesar is regal and sung with clarity and sensitivity. He has a long recitative following his sea escape, which he sings absolutely wonderfully. Isobel Leonard may just lack Lorraine Hunt's word painting intensity, but makes up for that with her ardent youthfulness and silvery pure voice. Dominique Visse's Nireno is solidly sung and charming. Overall, largely successful though not definitive. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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