Giulio Cesare at the Met

We caught Giulio Cesare at the Met Friday night.  Handel’s music really doesn’t soar for me the way Puccini and others do, but it was an amusing performance.  The traditional way of presenting this story of Caesar and Cleopatra and Pompey’s widow and son is not to stay within the period, but to play with the time period.  This was done to great affect and the whole was witty and effervescent.  I particularly enjoyed the performance of Natalie Dessay as Cleopatra.  What a joy she is, and a perfect choice for the role.  People who don’t love opera sometime fail to appreciate the acting involved, but Ms Dessay’s singing and acting were a pleasure to behold.

I have one very big problem with Handel’s Giulio Cesare.  I can handle the high-pitched voices of Ptolemy and Sextus because Ptolemy is a character to be mocked and Sextus is a boy, but Caesar as a counter-tenor is just too much to take and spoils the program.   I get that Handel wrote the role for the famous castrato Senesino, but it doesn’t work for me at all and the voice is grating.  I don’t think it would be out of line to re-write it for a tenor.

The gentleman who sang the role of Caesar, David Daniels, was unimpressive.  Christophe Dumaux’s Ptolemy was a real scene stealer, and when he bounded on top of a table late in the program, the entire audience gasped, which was worth the price of admission right there.  I remember seeing Pavarotti in Turandot late in his career when he was barely able to amble out to the middle of the stage, sing his songs, and amble off.  How much more fun to see athletic performances such as Mr Dumaux’s and Ms Dessay’s.  Ms Dessay’s dancing added to the sense of fun in this excessively long (four and a half hours) but weirdly fun opera.

A final word about Ms Dessay.  I understand that she had some health issues and underwent surgery on a vocal chord.  I have heard Kathleen Battle and other great coloraturas.  This was the first time I heard Ms Dessay and, no, she was not as superb as others I’ve heard, but I just don’t care.  Her voice was good and her performance made me happy.  The opera snobs can ding this one and that one for lacking purity of tone, but Ms Dessay gave me a great performance.  I can’t ask for more.  I can hear perfect tones on a record album, but I go to the theater for a great show.

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