LABELS: Astrée Auvidis
WORKS: Giulio Cesare
PERFORMER: James Bowman, Lynne Dawson, Guillemette Laurens, Eirian James, Dominique Visse; La Grande Écurie et la Chambre du Roy/Jean-Claude Malgoire
CATALOGUE NO: E 8558 DDD
Giulio Cesare proved by far the most popular of Handel’s operas, both originally and in modern revivals. Its straightforward plot and all-star original cast drew from Handel exceptional depth and subtlety in musical characterisation and lavish orchestral colours; Cleopatra’s seductive stage orchestra – harp, theorbo and viola da gamba with muted accompaniment from the pit – is unique.
René Jacobs set the standard in 1991 (on Harmonia Mundi). By comparison, this is milder, more pensive. Bowman is superbly flexible – he seems to become ever more fluent over the years – yet less powerful and imperious than Jennifer Larmore, the earlier . Visse is thrillingly vicious as Tolomeo, the murderer and rapist, while the widowed Cornelia (Laurens) retains an expressive passion despite the weight of tragedy overwhelming her. Dawson, a provocative Cleopatra, isn’t always given her head: her final aria, da tempeste, is restrained by Malgoire’s sober tempo.
The recording balance veils some artful orchestral detail. But the quasi-stage acoustic and sense of space add dramatic realism to the recitative, which has been judiciously cut to allow the inclusion of all the arias within the three discs.
This is a worthy addition to several versions already available on disc – though a dozen or more Handel operas still await their first recordings. George Pratt