Handel: Giulio Cesare / Christie, Connelly, Glyndebourne Opera [Blu-ray]
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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, Caesar'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 Caesar's and Cleopatra's more introspective moments. Caesar 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

Customer Reviews:

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Opera at it's best
    I will admit that baroque music is not one of my favorite. However, I'm quite attached my DVD's of Handel opera's from Munich productions, quirky though they be. But this one goes to the very top of the list by a mile. I won't repeat all the plaudits from others except to say that if you only buy one Handel opera on DVD, it should be this one. It's 5+ stars regardless of what aspect you talking about....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
  • This one succeeds

    An opera performance that includes the musical insights of conductor William Christie and the imaginative production values of Glyndebourne can hardly fail, and the performance of Handel's "Giulio Cesare" captured on this new 3 DVD set succeeds admirably. The entire cast sings and acts with excellence, but I feel compelled to praise the brilliant and beautiful young American soprano Danielle de Niese, whose gorgeously costumed Cleopatra--an impudent sexy adolescent Queen of Egypt, married by Egyptian custom to her brother Ptolemy and locked with him in a violent struggle for sole possession of the throne--develops into a woman maturely in love with the Roman conqueror Julius Caesar. Sarah Connolly is totally convincing in the trouser role of Caesar (written by Handel for a castrato), and sings with true bel canto viruosity. In the orchestra pit, The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment provides an exemplary accompaniment. The setting and costumes for the story have been updated to the 19th century: Roman soldiers are dressed as British redcoats, guns are fired, modern battleships float on the waters of the backdrop. This also is convincing; colonialism and imperialism remain much the same from the time of the Roman conquests to the time of the Suez Canal and beyond. Despite these anachronisms, Baroque music performance style is observed and the repeated sections of da capo arias are expertly embellished. With this production, the Glyndebourne directors intended explicitly to entertain the audience as well as to satisfy the experienced music lover; they succeeded. The opera itself is one of Handel's finest. Audio for the DVD is superb high fidelity, video is brilliant high definition. Extra documentary features offer interesting glimpses behind the scene at Glyndebourne. A literate and lavishly illustrated booklet is enclosed with the boxed set. The price for all of this is remarkably reasonable. What more could you wish for? ...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
  • Splendid Handel revival
    During a youtube journey, I stumbled across this Opus Arte production. Intrigued by the evoking video clip, I bought the DVD. The reviewers were correct with their praise and critique. In addition, I found the sublime team effort utterly impressive: the whole cast, the director and conductor inspired each other obviously in this lively energetic perfomance. Age differences and cultural background of the performers were remarkable merged on the stage along with the sweeping music beat. Although still young (some critique her voice),de Niese is already a big stage personality with a inspiring demaneour. I found the vision to present Handel like this very convincing. A refreshing performance, you will talk about....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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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