Giulio Cesare – the bright side of colonialism (Glyndebourne, 15 June 2018)
A bight, warm-ish day saw picnic-ers return to the Glyndebourne lawn for another round of the production that even McVicar-haters love. Updating Rome to the British Empire at its height and Egypt to the Subcontinent as its prized possession has retained both its poignancy and light-hearted humour.
Giulio Cesare: Sarah Connolly
Cleopatra: Joelle Harvey
Tolomeo: Christophe Dumaux
Cornelia: Patricia Bardon
Sesto: Anna Stephany
Achilla: John Moore
Nireno: Kangmin Justin Kim
Curio: Harry Thatcher
Conductor: William Christie | Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Director: David McVicar
As most die hard Baroque fans are aware, this is the Giulio Cesare production on the market, still enduring after more than 12 years. It’s returned to the Glyndebourne hall after a whooping 9 years. Connolly, Dumaux and Bardon reprise their trademark roles – when you star in a definitive production the differences between you and your role will blur in the public’s mind.
Newcomers Harvey, Stephany and Kangmin Justin Kim are more than able to fill in the tall boots they were presented with. Though not a natural mover with DeNiese in mind or when sharing the stage with Connolly (textbook swagger) and Dumaux (Mr Athleticism), Harvey showed that she is very proficient at following directions to portraying a lively and energetic Cleopatra. Vocally she’s not Piau but her accomplishment surpasses DeNiese’s by far and her stamina is enviable. Remember, it’s not just 8 arias (most of them difficult, with Da tempeste rounding it all up after almost 4 hours) but also the relentless matching choreography.
Stephany, hot on the heels of portraying the other Sesto (big Sesto, to this little Sesto) at last year’s festival, was very convincing as the earnerst son of Pompey, called to take adult responsibility much too soon, and her interaction with Bardon’s Cornelia, Sesto’s mother, was entirely believable. This role is very well suited to her voice (I’d say better suited than big Sesto).
I have not seen before Kangmin Justin Kim but he entirely lived up to his niche comedy reputation as Kimcilia Bartoli, which amounted to a winning stage presence (ie: very camp funny). Nireno doesn’t have much to sing so it’s hard to gauge him just yet but in his aria he showed an unusually mezzo-ish tone. Afterwards we discussed the possibility of him actually being a tenor.
The orchestra was on top form, with the winds, brass and continuo all sounding like butter and Christie conducting at optimal tempi. A genuine pleasure to listen to! I could’ve honestly been happy with just them alone. 4 hours flew like nothing. It is really a shame Glyndebourne isn’t streaming it this year so more can hear it but I guess the DVD will have to do – after all, it was Christie and them back then as well.
I came to this production at a time when I was sick and tired of pop music so my first rection to its Bollywoodness was ambivalent. On the one hand I couldn’t deny its effectiveness, on the other I really hated the choreography. Time has passed and the 2018 me loved the opportunity of witnessing a legendary production with its legendary actors in its legendary house. Seeing this Cesare at Glyndebourne is like seeing Der Rosenkavalier in Vienna or any Verdi in Italia. Nowadays I enjoy the jokey nature and the silly moves – Baroque music lends itself really well to dancing and it’s great when a production finds a way to incorporate that in the stage action.
One interesting aspect of this production is played by way of costume. At the beginning we see the Romans wearing… err, British gear and the Egyptians harem-style getups. But as things move on, the Roman/British outfits start to crop up with the Egyptians as well. This to me alludes to what we’d (still) call today the cosmopolitan nature of the Egyptian (ie, exotic land Westerners want to
conquer civilise) elite. They presumably speak fluent Latin/English with their visitors.
Indeed, during Va tacito we see Tolomeo’s staff bring out what looks like tea cakes and some sort of liquor. Cleopatra rocks a 1920s flapper girl outfit to seduce Cesare as Lydia and Tolomeo apparently enjoys hunting in safari gear as much as he does swinging his hips in harem trousers. The discreet appeal of colonialism has swayed minds even before any war ships and blimps appear on the horison.
Seeing it in the company of an international cast of WS was another highlight (check us out on Definitely the Opera, if you haven’t already). After plotting this outing for roughly a year, we finally met for this very special reason. I think I speak for us all when I say we had a blast. When you’re picnic-ing on the Glyndebourne lawn for a couple of hours, enjoying the sights, atmosphere – that curious combination of posh dress and easy chumminess1 – and a good opera chat, the ring of the first bell comes almost as a surprise: there’s live opera on the menu as well 🙂 And not just any opera.
What can I say? Tolomeo grew a hipster beard since the DVD came out and we know Cesare has badass hair under that wig2 – it goes really well with the coat – too bad we didn’t get to see it 😉 all the badass moves are there and people still openly ooh and aah at them and it’s always funny to see Cleopatra nonchalantly use Pompey’s urn as umbrella holder… it takes a bit of time to get used to the fact that something you’ve seen countless of times on the screen is now happening under your eyes, though in the house the difference in voice projection between Connolly and Bardon was rather striking. But this was only the second performance of the run and things evened out and got even livelier the week after.
- in that sense, Glyndebourne is like Venice – everybody’s happy to be there and most will be friendly. ↩
- it’s kind of interesting how McVicar did this year’s Vienna Ariodante in a similar vein, especially since Connolly and Dumaux were rivals there as well – or maybe because of that. I still think he shoul’ve relented on the Cesare hair front. ↩
Posted on June 28, 2018, in baroque, basses, countertenors, glyndebourne, live performances, mezzos & contraltos, sopranos and tagged giulio cesare in egitto, glyndebourne, handel, orchestra of the age of enlightenment, william christie. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.