Handel, Giulio Cesare, Glyndebourne Festival Opera

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Hail the conquering heroes. The British are coming – again.

David McVicar’s hugely entertaining take on Handel’s Giulio Cesare is back, rejoicing once more in the implausibilities of opera seria and wrong footing us again and again with its riot of periods and styles.

It’s an audacious director who can camp-up the form, glitz-up the spectacle, and then render us speechless with the pathos. Comedy teeters very close to tragedy in this 2005 staging but the one never usurps the other. Is this a comedy with dark moments or a drama with comic moments? You pays your money…..

And my goodness do you get value for it. Let’s begin with the instrumental splendour. Lawrence Cummings, who presides over the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, coaxes and cajoles myriad modes of attack and legato and sostenuto from his wonderful players. Handel’s accompagnati bristle with rhythmic excitement and luxuriate in opulence.

The new guys on the block – the period horns – blaze a path all the way to Cleopatra’s palace. When she mounts her elaborate entertainment for Caesar from a stage strewn with stars and gaudy silks and a second instrumental group intensifies the sweet harmony of seduction, you had better believe Caesar will fall.

He is once again Sarah Connolly fairing better, it has to be said, with Caesar’s poetic longings than his high-minded heroics. Connolly’s soft-grained instrument does not pump iron in the pyrotechnics though the rasp of those selective chest notes show he/she is no push over. But how sweetly she scales down her delivery in the heady duet with baroque violin, her whistled interpolations no doubt rehearsed and refined in the Glyndebourne gardens.

New to the cast is the Sesto of Stephanie D’Oustrac looking almost spookily like an adolescent male and tapping with abandon into the wild impetuosity driving this angry youth.

Her sound (at full tilt) isn’t always the nicest but the temperament of the singing is thrilling and the inwardness of “Care speme” with hope springing eternal in the inspirational ornamentation of the final da capo digs deep. Such artistry mirrors the Cornelia of Patricia Bardon wringing an almost unbearable intensity from her heartache.

And so to the all-singing, all-dancing, Queen of the Nile. Danielle de Niese’s Cleopatra is so indecently well-endowed with looks, personality, and star quality that it seems almost churlish to suggest that the voice is not always equal to the expressive demands she places on it. Suffice it to say, though, that her conviction blows you away and when she rallies her troops in the show-stopping “De tempeste” not even a sky full of zeppelins (don’t ask) has a hope of upstaging her.