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Handel - Giulio Cesare (Glyndebourne Opera Festival 2006)
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Product Description

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.

Customer Reviews:

  • A great TV-evening
    I love Mozartoperas. And I love Haendeloperas. In general productions of those early-history operas are old fashioned, stiff, characters are slow moving, the librettos do not make matters better.
    Now this production is different and really outstanding. Although again the story is complicated and Kindergarten-style there is big action on stage with fighting scenes, erotic sparkling and even a quite intense half-rape scene between a bass and an alto voice (!). The singers are outstanding, Haendel for sure listened from cloud 13 and made it rain over Glyndebourne (tears). The really strange thing: after having seen the whole thing a few times its not just one singer that stands over the whole production, everyone gave his best. And the MUSIC!...more info
  • Handel at his best
    The beautiful music of Handel is complemented by modern choreography. The performers are young and agile, as well as being wonderful singers. Opera the way I like it, a wonderful romp. ...more info
  • Near-perfection in a three CD set
    This production of Giulio Cesare, staged for Glyndebourne, is hard to fault. McVicar did a fantastic job of generating action, movement, political commentary and humour without distracting from the singing. The sets and costumes are equally up to the task. Moreover, everything that happens on stage makes sense - it is never there 'just for pretty' or because the director got nervous about "too many notes"...

    The singers are excellent, with Sarah Connolly the standout. To my mind she is a great Giulio Cesare: not only was her singing perfect in sound nad style, but she was so persuasive as an older man of authority that at no point was it necessary to suspend disbelief! If I had to choose one moement from this DVD - the one that has stayed with me the most - it would be the magnificent performance of 'Va tacito e nascosto'.

    I found the very beautiful Danielle de Niese much more convincing in Cleopatra's extroverted arias than in the more introspective ones: there was no sign of pianissimo or piano! "Piangero" was just too loud (and the audience evidently agreed with me, judging from the tepid applause that greets this famous aria). But I was impressed that De Niese could manage so much dancing while singing her last aria!

    "Cara speme" was the high point of Kirschlager's role - you feel that time stops while she sings this aria. Achille (Maltman) and Cornelia (Bardon) were also excellent - Bardon got more impressive as the opera went on. Countertenor Dumaux in the role of Tolomeo almost stole the show, and certainly stole all his scenes.

    William Christie - well, he and the orchestra are just magnificent. The young woman violinist who appeared on the stage (as a young man) for a solo during an Act II scene represented the admirable musicianship, good humour and sense of theater of this orchestra in the best possible way.

    All in all, an unmissable DVD for any Baroque lover - or any opera lover, period. ...more info
  • Giulio Cesare was enjoyable in many ways
    Giulio Cesare (JUL-io Chay-SAH-ray) was enjoyable in many ways. No but, except, could-have-been, I-would-have-changed, or why-did-they. Connolly plays Caesar and has a resemblance to Caesar. De Niese is sexy and can dance. Tolomeo (Ptolemy and Dumaux) is acrobatic and petulant. The scenery and costumes and dancing are shifted from a Baroque interpretation of Caesar's time to today's interpretation of Egypt under the British Empire. The performance has impact with acrobatics and confrontation and arguments and fights and pride. There are several simultaneous involved stories. It is in 16:9 HDTV format and 5.1 channel sound and way above NTSC TV quality. I enjoyed the music and singing. The second line of closed caption appears if you leave a black border around the video. ...more info
  • Animated Operaseria
    Hardly the jejune form of opera that Gluck railed against. Much of the energy for this staging emanates from Danielle De Niese, who surely could charm a eunuch, in the role of Cleopatra. John McVickers is to be praised for this production; Christie also -- as usual. ...more info
  • Riveting spectacle of power and lust
    This is an extraordinarily compelling production--staggeringly beautiful, meticulously stylized, and prodigiously creative.

    Baroque opera is exquisitely aestheticized and extravagantly theatrical. Its road to emotional truth is thickly coded. Abstraction and excess are its very media. The staging has to take the same road. Out go naturalistic movement and direct expression. In come hyperbolic gestures and hallucinating visuals. This is the road taken here, and it matches the epoch to a tee. It captures the visual language of the Baroque without overt references to the era.

    Sarah Connolly is stunning as Caesar. The charisma is palpable, the masculine charge undeniable, the grasp of power arresting. `Va tacito' offers the kind of glimpse into the choreography of power that Leni Reifenstahl would stage. Several of the other performers are equally superb in their roles, but Connolly I watched almost in disbelief--so persuasive is she.

    And yet Handel is not only spectacular; he is also poignant and reflective. Giulio Cesare is a precious work of art. Although the music is exuberantly ornamented, the emotional impact is ultimately simple and direct. The meditative, soaring moments are where the director blinks at times. He piles dancing, light show, and elaborate costumes on music that needs no help from Hollywood. `V'adoro pupille' is one such instance. It is an aria that stops time--a fragile, liquid moment. As luminous as it looks in this production, I wish that McVicar had resisted the bourgeois impulse to manage it, to improve on it, to produce something out of it. I wish he had let it be. While entertainment is not a dirty word, as McVicar points out, it is not nearly as pleasurable as great art.

    As a whole, this production is nonetheless remarkably effective. It tempts you to wallow in the pleasures of power--and it prompts you to catch yourself doing it.
    ...more info
  • My friend Vincenzo was right!!
    A month ago my friend Vincenzo Costanzo (see reviews) recommended to me Handel's Giulio Cesare Glyndebourne Opera production... he was right. It is such a great performance that he thought it deserved a special treatment: Vincenzo put together a group of friends and enjoyed this wonderful piece last saturday at his house along with a delicious menu of arab and indian food... It was a perfect evening... Thanks to Vin and Amazon for such a wonderful opportunity....more info
  • Every Glyndebourne does not glisten
    Giulio Cesare is not these days all that much of a rarity. So let's start by passing over in silence those noble early productions with bass and baritone Caesars who, however talented, were pitch inappropriate, and rarely capable of the florid work. The Caesar question then reduces to mezzo or countertenor. I greatly prefer the latter and since there are today many countertenors who perform the role, I am always saddened when conductors cast women. Even among female Caesars, Connolly is not really first-rate. If you require a woman, Janet Baker's magisterial performance is still available. The real problem with any production, however, is rarely the Caesar. The opera, after all, belongs to Cleopatra, and this is where the Glyndebourne production sinks to the bottom of the heap. Daniele de Niese is extraordinarily attractive, and her passage work is adequate. But Cleopatra is not primarily a sex kitten; if she were we would have not respect for Caesar's infatuation. She is a woman of real depth, and here the test is her seduction scene with its ravishing (and fantastically difficult) "V'adora pupille." De Niese here embarrasses. She cannot begin to negotiate the leaps in the vocal line, and as a result loses any hint of legato, let alone sensuality. I still await the perfect performance of this aria, while maintaining an idiosyncratic fondness for Valerie Masterson, Baker's Cleopatra, whose G&S origins may have helped her to be alluring even while singing softly. In any case De Niese's version is one of the worse, and she wisely does not include it on her recent Handel disk. Do not get me wrong. I adore Christie, and he works his orchestral magic here as fully as elsewhere. But we all know that the Brits love their Glyndebourne. Beware then: this is a dreary performance, the kind that makes people hate Handel. Those who need a performance in modern sound should go to the Minkowski cds or one of the (less luminously recorded) DVDs. The rest of us will have to cobble together our perfect performance from bits and pieces of the many great recordings that already exist....more info
  • Simply one of the best
    This has to be one of the finest Handel operas on DVD, not only for the singing but for the production: the sets are great and there is always action on stage that goes well with the music--even when Handel is being intentionally silly!

    Highly recommended!...more info
  • This is the one to buy
    I have 100+ opera dvds and this is probably THE best one, for all around singing, acting, costumes, sets, and pure entertainment. Yes, it makes an excellent audio recording to enjoy over and over, but you will also find yourself watching it over and over too, because it is such a good show.

    Connolly pulls off Cesare as well or better than any man ever did. Her coloratura is very pleasing and the voice well-balanced. The Cleopatra sings beautifully, is gorgeous to look at, and is quite a dancer as well. The Tolomeo is also quite light on his feet - he even does a complete flip during one scene. It's like he's a singer-slash-gymnast. He has a noticeable break to the voice but seems to use it almost as an advantage rather than a negative.

    The singer of Sesto seems a wee bit uncomfortable with this music occasionally. She has a fairly noticeable break to the voice on the fast bits, but her 'Cara Speme' is to die for - the audience seemed to appreciate it too. Also the Achilla was occasionally a bit blustery and off the mark on the coloratura, but not entirely sloppy. For the most part, he was quite acceptable. The direction was fantastic. I finally found an opera dvd where it appears that the director actually knew more about the opera than I did! How refreshing. For instance, he has the singers do some simple little dance-steps during 'Va tacito...' where it really emphasizes how Cesare and Tolomeo are squaring off for a big conflict. And yet no singer seemed to be doing anything they were not comfortable with.

    It is set in colonial Egypt under English rule, around the turn of the twentieth century. In my mind, this setting is a great historical witticism. Great choice.

    There is plenty of humor in the direction, but rarely poor taste. Finally, they are figuring out how to present Handel operas with both taste and entertainment-value!

    This is a wonderful video - just buy it....more info
  • Worth Buying -- but not for the Cleopatra
    I would be whole-heartedly on board with the praise accorded this disc if it weren't for the Cleopatra of Danielle de Niese. Yes, she has glamor and stage charisma and a vivid characterization. But her voice is unbelievably coarse, an unattractive timbre produced without refinement or nuance. Without her stunning visual allure, I do not think anyone would actually buy her in an audio-only recording of this opera.

    Apart from that, this set is magnificent, with peerless performances from Connelly, Bardon, Kirchschlager, Maltman, Abdeslam, and others. These are noble voices and fervent portrayals. I am not put off by the temporal transposition of the staging, and choruses and choreography are enchantingly integrated. The whole production has a surpassing grandeur, and I loved the multiple prosceniums.

    I would rate this five stars if it weren't for de Niese, but with Cleopatra such a key role and her music the most famous in all the opera, I had no choice. Some people, indeed, will be able to enjoy her performance for its many non-vocal strengths, but for me the music comes first. My reaction to de Niese's portrayal may be somewhat exaggerated by the fact that her weakest number is the "V'adoro pupille." She delivers the other arias rather more convincingly, but without seductive tones in "V'adoro" I cannot be won over by a Cleopatra. Furthermore, her bellydance to "V'adoro" has nothing to do with Cleopatra's masquerade as VIRTUE surrounded by the nine muses, and in fact trivializes the notion of Caesar's infatuation with her. This needs to be a seduction of the mind and the heart, not just the body.

    Frankly the set is worth the price of admission for the performance of "Son nata a lagrimar" offered by Patricia Bardon and Angelika Kirchschlager, and that is by no means the only highlight. It's certainly a set I revisit, and often, but I always have to look past the Cleopatra.

    Needless to say, the featurette highlighting de Niese did not enchant. And, honestly, I could do without all the interviews with stage directors, set designers, and choreographers that have come to litter opera sets. The artistic vision should hold up on its own. I tend to tune them out as so much meretricious persiflage. If the set could be reduced by a disk by omitting these features, I would be very content! (I concede that multiple disks have become commonplace for the sake of the sound quality, and the sound here is extraordinarily rich.)

    It pains me to run contrary to the prevailing opinion, but I base my opinion on repeated and comparative listening, and the verdict must stand. I endeavor to write reviews that can guide even a prospective buyer with markedly different sensibilities in making an informed decision. ...more info
  • Juicy, Campy Cesare
    Though I adore Danielle de Niese, it's the guys who carry this show. Countertenor Rachid Ben Abdeslam's Nireno is the cutest, gayest, quick-on-the-uptake servant I've ever seen in opera. He is also a very fine countertenor as is Christophe Dumaux, whose acrobatic bad guy Tolomeo keeps threatening to steal the show.

    Baritone Christopher Maltman (Achilla) gets to display his buff physique and his singing is as attractive as his pecs. Having Maltman in such a relatively small role is true luxury casting!

    David MacVicker's direction is generally good and the scenery works except for the pointless blimps and warships that crowd the back of the stage towards the opera's end.

    The special features were fine, especially the behind-the-scenes "tour" with de Niese as she gets ready for the evening's performance. (However, Glyndebourne's Gus Christie comes across as a bit of a stuffed shirt in this feature.)

    In November, I'm planning to see the Chicago Lyric Opera's staging of this production with several of this DVD's principals, including Dumaux and de Niese. It should be a juicy, joyous four hours of Handel.

    And since so many other Amazon reviers have covered this release in detail, including the fine work by the female principals and the witty Bollywood dance moves, I'm wrapping it up....more info
  • Stunning and solid
    Just a quick summary: Visually stunning: at last a set with perspective and depth, if not decoratively rococo. The period has been shifted forward to the late end of the 18th, beginning of the 19th century--sort of Lord Nelson in Egypt. A DVD of a live production with satisfying camera work for those who love opera in the theatre first (unlike the Sellars Cesare, with its close-in camera and crotch shots with no sense of the stage as stage). Use of choreographed movement during ritornellos is clever, satisfying, and musical (though not 'historical'). Musically wonderful, forward-moving, as we've come to expect of Christie. Overall MUCH better singing than in the Sellars film or the Opera Australia (Francisco Negrin) production on DVD. Perhaps in Connolly as close to a satisfying woman singing the role of Cesare as we will get. Still some sillinesses, but apparently successful silliness judging by the audience chuckles. The singing in the other Negrin production (conducted by Mortensen) is also to treasure, if you prefer this opera in fatigues and more emphasis on cruelty....more info
  • Note on the Villain,Mr Dumaux
    Rewiewers said enough about this brilliant production and I 100% agree with raviest of them.My point is audience's usual behavior on opera;crazy applause to the primo uomo(wonderful Sarah Connoly),same to prima donna(spirited,very talented De Niese)however people doesn't justice to other first class performers there.Surely the whole cast is amazing,all of them deserve people's cheers,orchestra and Mr Christie present some new interpretative ideas to this very popular Handel's masterpiece but I was a bit disappointed because Christophe Dumaux didn't take a deserved outstanding ovation on his infectious Ptolomeo singing.In fact,I can't remember any more bruising "L'empio,sleale,indegno" rendition (same to "Domer¨® la tua fierezza")than this one by him.What a hell of a singer is this guy!I heard his amazing artistry on Met Rodelinda last year(as usual and a bit unfair,people was all about Andreas Scholl on stage)Anyway,I wish Glyndebourne had pay him a high fee for such a brilliant performance and he goes into a studio recording to a solo cd right away. ...more info
  • Great, delightful and integral opera experience
    As an opera fan, in the last 30 years I have seen hundreds of productions, of all kinds of operas, all over the world; however I can attest that this 2005 Handel's Giulio Cesare by the Glyndebourne Opera, is one of the best ever. It is quite common to find lots of ghastly Eurotrash productions of Handel's operas, in spite, sometimes, of the great singers involved. These "contemporary" approaches, using cheap jokes and absurd sceneries and costumes, are commonly found in most European theaters that are trying to "rescue" Handel's extensive theatrical work. For instance, David Alden's approach to Rinaldo (Munich) and Ariodante (ENO) are a sort of insult, rather than a rescue, to the greatness of Handel's music and to talented singers like David Daniels, Deborah York and Ann Murray. It requires a real genius to stage, in a dignified and actual way, one of these operas regarded by some people as museum pieces. Contrary to Mr. Alden, I think that David McVicar, director of this Giulio Cesare, is 100% worth of Handel's genius. He is not alone though, in fact he is well backed by a crew of terrific singers (specially Sarah Connolly and the beautiful and amazing Danielle De Niese), by a precise orchestra (The age of enlightenment conducted by William Christie), the magical sets and dazzling costumes of Robert Jones and Brigitte Reiffenstuel and the movements on stage by Andrew George. All these elements are perfectly balanced to make more enjoyable (almost divine) the already fantastic music of this opera. In other productions like Alden's Rinaldo and Ariodante you have to shut your eyes to enjoy the music without the nasty burlesque interference of the stage director, by the contrary, in this Giulio Cesare you forget, at times, that the stage production was adapted to the music and no the other way around. I highly recommend this set of 3 DVDs packed in a luxurious case. The extras are great too, specially the review of the plot. When I got them I tried a "quick" check in my home theater, I got immediately hooked to it and, without even noticing, I went through the almost 4 hours of opera. It is noteworthy the believable acting of the singers, which is not common in traditionally rigid baroque operas, this conveys a dynamic rhythm to the whole plot. I never ever before, in a Handel's opera, cared too much about the plot or root at all for the characters. In this production thogh, I really got involved with the tragedy of Cornelia and Sestus, the sometimes hilarious and sometimes passional (but always enchanting) Cleopatra and the evil maneuverings of Ptolomeo and Achilla. Quite a great, delightful and integral experience indeed. ...more info
  • Not Impressed !
    Julius Caesar; (July 12 or July 13, 100 BC - March 15, 44 BC ) dresses in 19th century English colonial army uniform? Try to make Handel's opera a Broadway show? Not impressed!...more info
  • Handel's Wondrous Music Beautifully Served by a Stellar Cast and McVicar's Creative Modernist Take
    David McVicar's spirited, audacious 2005 Glyndebourne staging of Handel's preeminent opera seria comes to life in a surprisingly robust 2006 DVD package that spreads the marathon, four-hour work over three discs. Not nearly as outrageous as David Alden or Peter Sellars, McVicar exhibits a more manageable theatrical flair with an idiosyncratic blend of historical periods and dramatic styles from slapstick to melodrama. Bolstered by Robert Jones' impressive sets, it's a lavish production that places the classic story of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra within the context of the 18th century British imperialism encroaching upon Egypt. Above all else is G.F. Handel's wondrous music, including some of his best arias, impeccably played by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment led by estimable Baroque specialist William Christie.

    A splendid cast has been assembled starting with British mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly who transforms herself most convincingly into a stalwart male for the title role. Performing in an especially low Baroque pitch, Connolly sings superbly while perfectly evoking the swagger of a warrior. With her stunning coloratura, she hits the expected high points without disappointment - Act I's "Va tacito e nascosto"; Act II's casually lyrical "Se in fiorito ameno prato" competing with a virtuoso violin solo by Nadja Zwiener; and Act III's "Aure, deh, per pieta" when Caesar returns to Egypt after his escape from Tolomeo. As Cleopatra, 25-year old Australian-American soprano Danielle de Niese is a ravishing presence along the lines of Angelina Jolie. Physically ideal in a variety of eye-catching costumes, she handles the character's diverse sequence of arias with aplomb - Act II's "V'adoro, pupille" in the guise of a goddess prepared to entertain Caesar; the moving "Se piet¨¤ di me non senti" later in Act II; and of course, Act III's "Pianger¨° la sorte mia" as she laments her defeat by Tolomeo.

    In another cross-dressing turn, German mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager makes Sesto's desires for revenge of his father's death most palpable, especially on the aria "Svegliatevi nel core"; and Irish mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon is moving as Sesto's grief-stricken mother Cornelia, Pompey's widow. Their characters' much-anticipated duet, "Madre!...son nata a lagrimar", closes Act I in beautifully rendered style. Though clearly overshadowed, the men perform exceptionally - Moroccan countertenor Rachid Ben Abdeslam as Cleopatra's servant Nireno (especially on his comic song-and-dance, "Chi perde un momento", complete with a Supremes-like back-up group); French countertenor Christophe Dumaux as Cleopatra's treacherous brother Tolomeo; and British baritone Christopher Maltman as Tolomeo's general, Achilla, who bravely switches sides only to meet a ghastly fate. Helping considerably in defining the various characters are Brigitte Reiffenstuel's often clever costumes, as well as the animated choreography, partially inspired by Bollywood musicals, by "movement director" Andrew George.

    Commensurate with the stellar production, Opus Arte has provided a strong set of extras in the DVD package. On the first disc, there is a helpful synopsis that uses snapshots of the performance to explain the complex storyline. Of more interest is a half-hour featurette called "Danielle de Niese and the Glyndebourne Experience", which spotlights the gorgeous soprano in an informal portrait similar to MTV's "Cribs" series. A naturally telegenic personality, she gives a tour of her rented cottage, drives to the venue, strolls with Glyndebourne executive chairman Gus Christie and shows how she prepares for the role. On the third disc is the more substantive, one-hour documentary, "Entertainment Is Not a Dirty Word", directed by Ferenc van Damme, in which McVicar, Christie, Connolly, de Niese, Kirchschlager and George lend behind-the-scenes insight on the production and discuss at length the freedom allowed by this newest interpretation. There are also slideshows of the rehearsals and the final production on the third disc....more info