Giulio Cesare: Andreas Scholl, countertenor
Cleopatra: Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano
Cornelia: Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano
Sesto: Philippe Jaroussky, countertenor
Tolomeo: Christophe Dumaux, countertenor
Nireno: Jochen Kowalski, countertenor
Achilla: Ruben Drole, bass
Curio: Peter Kálmán, bass
Conductor: Giovanni Antonini, l'Orchestre Il Giardino Armonico
Regisseur: Olivier Simonnet
Production: Moshe Leiser et Patrice Caurier
While watching Giulio Cesare stream from Salzburg, I took notes.
The production is in modern dress, soldiers with helmets and rifles dancing. There is fire on the stage. The stage is full of lizards and oil wells. The chorus is not much.
Scholl as Caesar in a medium blue suit steps out of a limousine with a statue of himself lying on the roof. The statue is taken off and placed on the stage. To the victor belong the spoils. He wears the Roman victory laurel, but quickly takes it off. He sits down and reads the newspapers while singing about victory.
Von Otter and Jaroussky, Pompey's family, appear in time to see Pompey's head delivered in a blue box with a green ribbon. Caesar doesn't know what's in the box and opens it in front of the family.
Caesar goes back to the car to get his gun and sings through the window. Now he is mad as hell. Jaroussky is dressed as a kid. I completely do not buy the head left lying on the floor. They would have done something with it. Cornelia is in despair and puts her head in a lizard's mouth. Sesto is pissed and sees a ghost of Dad. He at least acknowledges the head on the floor.
Cecilia Bartoli is the Intendant of this festival and has made sure she gets plenty of costumes for this opera. No more operas where she spends the whole night in her night gown or a black dress. In her first entrance she is wearing boots and a leopard trench coat. Cute. She dances around the statue of Caesar. There are obscene gestures. This part of the opera is all about having fun.
Her brother Tolomeo throws the statue of Caesar on the floor and kicks it. He tears it up and pulls out its insides. For some unknown reason it has insides. He makes the head of Pompey and the head of Caesar kiss. He is a bum with tattoos, corn rows and long hair. I am booing. So is the audience.
Caesar comes out and lights an oil drum. He takes Pompey's head and puts it in the burning drum. At least he treats it with some respect.
You have guessed by now that this is serious Eurotrash. If it weren't for streaming we wouldn't get to see this sort of thing in America. Philistine that I am, I am enjoying it.
Cleopatra is disguised as Lydia, but as usual, the eyes give her away. She wears a wig that looks like pictures from Maria.
Except sometimes she doesn't. My dear, you are wasting all these charms on me. I already love you. This production is pretty smutty. However, there is absolutely no problem following the plot. It's theatrically quite viable.
Sesto is planning his revenge, puts soot on his face. Cleopatra as Lydia offers to help.
Caesar and Tolomeo meet over drinks. Caesar pours his drink into the flowers, and they immediately wilt. Papers are signed over oil wells, smiles and handshakes are photographed, and Caesar goes off in his limousine.
The Act ends with von Otter and Jaroussky singing an incredibly gorgeous “Son nata a lagrimar” duet.
Act II begins with the seduction scene. Caesar puts on 3D glasses to watch the show.
Cleopatra is sitting on a rocket wearing a blond, frizzy wig, sun glasses, black gloves and a camouflage trench coat. She takes off the coat to show black boots and gray feathers. More giant Sally Rand style feathers appear, held up by men. If I'm the star, I get costumes, dammit. And half naked men to hold my feathers. She sings "V'adoro pupille" and then sails off on the rocket. You knew that. Big cheers.
Caesar is sunk.
I'm not sure why, but I like Eurotrash for Handel.
Tolomeo is still trying to seduce Cornelia who tries to pour gasoline over herself and set herself on fire. Sesto stops her. He sings about snakes in front of a film of snakes. Jaroussky brings a masculine energy to the role of Sesto that a woman could not. He shoots the snake while singing insane coloratura.
Everyone warns Caesar that Tolomeo is coming, but he slowly puts on his shoes and explains he has no fear. Cleopatra wears a gold robe in this scene. Caesar flees but takes his time.
Cleopatra picks up a machine gun and waves it around. She wants the gods to protect Caesar. This aria “Se pietà” is a prayer with dancing soldiers. In the audience is a shouter. This time he says, "Gigante!" It was amazing.
Tolomeo is reading Playboy and ogling the centerfold. Caesar jumps into the sea, and Cleopatra leads the Romans against Tolomeo.
Sesto fails again to kill Tolomeo, and to end the act Cornelia and Sesto strap a bomb around his waist so he can become a suicide bomber.
At the beginning of Act III Achilla is shot. Tolomeo captures Cleopatra and makes her kneel and put a bag over her head. She thinks all is lost. Cecilia Bartoli sings the entire aria "Piangero," brilliantly, kneeling on the floor with a bag over her head.
Caesar can swim and comes up out of the sea. He lies down on the floor amid a group of dying soldiers. Caesar takes the bomb off of Sesto.
Caesar rescues Cleopatra just in time for "Da tempeste." She is happy and dances around an oil well. Curio gives her a note and some money. She counts it and gives him some. A piano comes out, and Cleopatra finishes the aria decorating the stage with strings of lights.
Tolomeo and Cornelia come out. She pulls a gun on him, but Sesto arrives and stabs Tolomeo with his bayonet.
The winners come back, surround the piano and smoke a little pot. Where do I get a picture of Cecilia inhaling? She's wearing a gold lame dress in this scene. She has her wig again.
Scholl and Bartoli sing a wonderful love duet while rolling around on the floor. No longer dead, Tolomeo joins the finale. At the end a real tank appears in the alley behind the stage.
Question: if you could do anything you wanted, would it be this?
I want to do a musical review of Giulio Cesare based on the stream.
This was my third experience of Cecilia Bartoli's Cleopatra -- first a staged version at the Zurich Opera with Marc Minkowski conducting and La Scintilla playing, then a concert version in Paris with William Christie conducting, and this staged third version from Salzburg with Giovanni Antonini and his orchestra Il Giardino Armonico. It is interesting to explore the subtle differences.
All three were long versions with little or no cuts. Minkowski and Christie seemed to try to compensate for this by rushing through everything.
The performance in Zurich was odd. Minkowski is a dynamic but idiosyncratic conductor who brought out some odd features, like performing most of the repeats sotto voce. La Scintilla was out of tune and not in good form. They made the mistake of putting a horn player on the stage where he proceeded to bloop every third note. I suspect these problems have prevented this performance from being released on DVD. Cecilia was very physically dynamic and intense throughout. There are some poor quality recordings of bits of this on YouTube, and I notice mainly the quick tempos.
In Paris I was handicapped by sitting behind the performers. A concert performance can be nice, but you only get the full effect of an opera when it's staged. There was a kind of sameness to the different numbers. This is the most common thing that happens in a performance and is probably the strongest indication that the maestro is present. What is wished for is complete individuality. Is this too hard to understand?
Of live performances I have seen, this opera remains my personal favorite for Cecilia Bartoli. It would have been very hard for me to miss the Salzburg performance. Thanks to the modern device of live streaming, I had a front row seat.
We may carp over the staging of this opera, especially the raunchy bits, but musically it was an absolute triumph. Somewhere in an interview Cecilia said that all the participants were on the same page musically--not a direct quote. I can't remember the precise words. It was that rarest of musical events--the true ensemble performance.
My personal favorite is Cecilia's performance of "Tutto puo donna," a beautiful woman can accomplish anything. She, of course, is the living embodiment of these words. Her style of delivering this aria is her own unique creation. Let's face it, anything she sings is her own unique creation. This above all else is what makes her her. Her voice is at its most gorgeous now.
But that same kind of thoughtful personal expression was everywhere, whether nasty, tragic, sexy, triumphant, or frightened, each achieved a personal individuality from all the artists present that combined and blended into great beauty. Perhaps the collective soul of music soars higher than the individual ego.
I always feel about Giovanni Antonini and his orchestra Il Giardino Armonico that they embody a similar kind of collective enthusiasm that spreads out to include everyone in sight. Handel was never this wonderful.