Operagasm Exclusive Review: Giulio Cesare in Egitto
by Wade Davis
Review of “Giulio Cesare in Egitto” MET Opera
-Countess Madeleine as Funky Dineva
A fabulous tenor man, K_ gave me LIFE EVERLASTING at a recent festival I attended in the middle of nowhere. Those of you who know me know this is a very special place! We watched something so ridiculously fabulous, it’s almost Scandal-ous (nod to ABC’s hitdrama starring Kerry Washington)!
MY HAIR IS LAYED LIKE NATALIE DESSAY AS CLEOPATRA AS LYDIA, okay?!?! Yes GODD, this is some Louise Brooks bob, honey. This Giulio Cesare is EVERYTHING you could want at a MET broadcast. David Daniels shows you why he is justly famous for his portrayal of the hero general. And Natalie Dessay really was born to sing AND dance Cleopatra and she shows just how great her theatrical range is not just as a singer but as an artist. Danielle de Niese is lovely in the original production DVD, but Natalie Dessay makes Cleopatra her very own in this production. Her comic timing is impeccable when she shows up to Pompeii’s funeral disguised as her own servant, Lydia, where she has all the panache of a silent-film star. And honey, the clothes!!!! She’s giving you everything from Bollywood to 1920s flapper, to slinky gold-beaded number, to hunting tweeds, to full-on 18th century panniered gown, and a fabulous wig to match. Cleopatra was no joke, okay?!
Tolomeo, a word, please? You don’t talk to Patricia Bardon as Cornelia like that EVER, okay. She is grieving her late husband, whom YOU had killed. Then, you sent her his head on a platter. Now you have the audacity to talk to her any way you please?? SIT DOWN somewhere. You need to chill. I could slap you. Your mamma sure should. And as far treating your own sister like that at the beginning of Act III, I’ve really just had it with all of your mess. You don’t talk to a girl like that, point blank, ever. You’ll get yours, though. (This is of course a reaction to the INCREDIBLE acting and singing of Christophe Dumaux, who has OWNED the role for the past ten years and I have heard will retire it soon, if not already.)
Very special mention must be given to both Alice Coote as Sesto and Patricia Bardon as Cornelia. For those of us who adore PBS’s “Downton Abbey,” Bardon recalls a young Violet Grantham (if you can imagine it [<3 Dame Maggie Smith]) just beginning to go through the shock of her husband’s assassination to the craziness that ensues when she should be in proper mourning. Her performance is revelatory and has made me love to stop and really listen to a good Cornelia on record, which I never used to do before. And I think by this point we all know that this is my favorite opera and I have four complete recordings. (I’m just saying.)
Alice Coote will hereby receive her own paragraph because as aforementioned, her Sesto is just out of this world great. She is GIVING you this young boy who’s a little bit of a dandy, thrust into a terrible situation of losing his father and watching his mother suffer at the hands of a foreign tyrant. Coote invests in the characterization and you do, too. It’s almost too good. And I did I mention this singing??! I dare any mezzo other than Joyce D. to just defy gravity and pop out B-flats and Cs with more ease and clarity while serving up SPOT-ON coloratura (BTW, that’s in Act III when everyone is SUPPOSED to be getting tired vocally. :).
Now, arguably the raison d’être of the opera itself, David Daniels’s Giulio Cesare. As I stated before, he shows here why he is justly famous in the role. He has sung it quite a bit and clearly loves it and LIVES it onstage. Sarah Connolly, you know how I feel about your “Cesare” (swoon-worthy woman crush!) but David is really a man’s man and in this production he’s probably closer to actual General’s age than most young countertenors just getting their feet wet with forays into the role, which is to his benefit. Sometimes countertenors can come across less-than-manly purely because of the sound of their voices, but David is of sound body, so there’s no mistaking him for anything less than a hero. For all of his manly flights of coloratura, his best moment for my money is when he’s all washed-up on the shores singing “Aure, deh, per pieta.” Daniels is hitting the absolute mark of what makes a great Handel singer: attention to text, clarity of intention, and without question, gorgeous singing.
I was lucky enough to see this production live at the MET and this broadcast party just brought it all back in spades: the fun, the tragedy, the absolute spectacle that IS Handel’s “Giulio Cesare in Egitto.”
Wade Davis is a graduate of the Peabody Conservatory and a freelance cellist. Learn more about him at: http://wadedaviscello.weebly.com/