There's a chance that purists will be very unhappy with director David McVicar's production of this Baroque masterpiece; there's also an equal chance that they'll be so vastly entertained that all criticisms will be beside the point. Updated to the years before World War I, Caeser's troops are British soldiers come to colonize Egypt, the latter being a place filled with exoticisms in the form of acres of billowing silk, flashy costumes, and full-blown song and dance numbers a la Bollywood (featuring sex-kitten Cleopatra and her minions). It's not only funny/campy, it also makes a certain internal sense. The razzle-dazzle is laid aside for the personal tragedy of Cornelia and Sesto (Patricia Bardon and Angelika Kirchschlager, respectively)--here portrayed as a beaten-down woman in a pathetic rage and a son on the verge of insanity--and for Caeser's and Cleopatra's more introspective moments. Caeser is mezzo Sarah Connelly, in firm voice and with the bearing of an emperor. Cleopatra is the 25-year-old American Daniele de Niese, ravishing in person and voice, with charisma, nerve, and talent in equal proportions. Countertenor Christopher Dumaux' bitchy-queen Tolomeo is remarkable, and the Achilles of bass Christopher Maltman is menacing. William Christie leads the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with great spirit and dramatic thrust, and the production values---subtitles in major European languages and English, stereo and surround sound, and picture---are ideal. Extras include interviews with the director and singers and an up-close look at Danielle de Niese. This is a fascinating, grand entertainment that may just make new friends for Baroque opera. ---Robert Levine
I have always adored Handel's music but when I first saw this production at Glyndebourne, it was a real revelation. An extraordinarily beautiful staging with real drama, but also full of humour and a great deal of dancing - Bollywood style!
David McVicar's take on Giulio Cesare left me completely stunned - I have never felt so many different emotions during one performance - it made me both laugh and cry in equal measure. In one scene you are deeply touched by the genuine torment the singers express and in the next, without undermining the story or the music, you delight in the humour and are uplifted by the enchanting dancing that seems to fit so perfectly with Handel's lively rhythms.
The singing, acting and dancing of this all star cast is outstanding and is led by Sarah Connolly as a superb and very convincing Giulio Cesare. Danielle de Niese is a sexy, mesmerizing Cleopatra and a consummate singer/actress who steals the show (you can see more of her discussing this, her debut Glyndebourne performance, in the extra bonus features). William Christie draws rich and magical playing from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, revealing the dramatic, lively and tender layers in Handel's luscious music.
In the documentary feature McVicar says 'Entertainment is not a Dirty Word' and I absolutely agree with him. Opera was always meant to entertain and this production does just that! It is one of the few I can watch again and again and I highly recommend a night on the sofa with this DVD.