Magazine article Musical Opinion

Giulio Cesare in Egitto

Magazine article Musical Opinion

Giulio Cesare in Egitto

Article excerpt

Opera North

Probably Handel's finest Italian opera seria, Giulio Cesare in Egitto is a vehicle for virtuosic singing of the highest order. It also contains some of his most ravishingly beautiful music, and a story that, while no less convoluted than many other libretti of the time, is at least reasonably true to historical fact.

Opera North's resources on January 14 at Leeds Grand theatre ensured an effective staging, with excellent casting and a baroque specialist in charge - Robert Howarth.The music, orchestral and vocal, was supreme, despite some cuts to get it into about three hours, 20 minutes.

Tim Alber/s approach as director made the plot come across clearly (Leslie Travers' two-unit set, used throughout, rotated to evoke varying places and vantage points) and Thomas C Hase's lighting focused on the singers. This being baroque opera, their emotions emerge intensely ... and one at a time. But there was scope for three-dimensional portrayal as well as vocal brilliance, and all responded to the challenge, despite temptations to slowmotion acting that Handel's formal structures can create.

Sarah Tynan's Cleopatra and James Laing's Tolomeo (Ptolemy as historians know him) were outstanding. Perhaps not surprisingly, as they - sister and brother and married - are among the most lurid potentates known to myth and history. Handel certainly gives the soprano (originally Cuzzoni) and second leading male alto music to match their reputations. And Albery asked them to be lurid, too - both in electric blue, Tynan as a slinky, tightskirted vamp, equally adept at seduction or sword-fighting when the time came, Laing as a snake-eyed, sexually voracious psychopath. …

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