Handel: Giulio Cesare

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Handel
WORKS: Giulio Cesare
PERFORMER: Andreas Scholl, Inger Dam-Jensen, Randi Stene, Tuva Semmingsen, Christopher Robson, John Lundgren, Palle Knudsen, Michael Maniaci; Concerto Copenhagen/Lars Ulrik Mortensen; dir. Francisco Negrin (Copenhagen, 2005)
CATALOGUE NO: HMD 9909008-09 (NTSC system; dts 5.0; 16:9 picture format)
Recorded at the Royal Danish Opera in 2005, Francisco Negrin’s modern-dress production of Handel’s opera looks on the inexpensive side in Anthony Baker’s designs. Andreas Scholl’s Caesar wears the combat uniform of a present-day army officer, Randi Stene’s Cornelia is a Hillary Clinton look-alike and Christopher Robson’s Tolomeo is, not inappropriately, an overgrown baby. But it’s not a very inspiring set of visuals given the collision of two mighty empires and cultures posited in the original.

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Yet Giulio Cesare is not essentially about spectacle, but more about power and sexual politics. Though all of the performances are delivered with some intelligence, Negrin fails to draw much in the way of intensity from any of his singers, either individually or in confrontation. Vocally, too, while there’s a lot of very decent singing, there’s none that really sets the evening alight. Best is Inger Dam-Jensen’s feline and quick-witted Cleopatra, who provides personality and determination, and even some sparkle, without quite being a star. Scholl’s Caesar is skilfully sung, with some sense of character, though it’s calculated rather than spontaneous. Robson’s Tolomeo is roughly sung and hooty, though the American male soprano Michael Maniaci makes a definite splash in the small role of Cleopatra’s sidekick, Nireno. And no complaints about the spirited musical direction of Lars Ulrik Mortensen and his Danish period-instrument orchestra. But any DVD Caesar has to measure itself against Glyndebourne’s (on Opus Arte), which is going to take some beating. George Hall