Introducing... Giulio Cesare

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Our Introducing… series looks at the Festival 2018 revival of Giulio Cesare, a production so inventive and energetic it transformed the way Handel is staged worldwide

In this short video we talk to choreographer Andrew George about the spectacular Bollywood-inspired dancing in Giulio Cesare and why he loves the production.

Need to know

Handel’s most popular opera, both in his lifetime and today, Giulio Cesare (1724) tells the story of the momentous meeting between Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. But rather than paint it as a sprawling classical epic, Handel gives us a surprisingly intimate, human portrait of love, jealousy, revenge and desire. These are people first, rulers second.

Giulio Cesare arrives in Egypt, where he meets warring royal siblings Cleopatra and Tolomeo, each determined to win the throne by any means possible. Appalled by Tolomeo’s cruelty and violence, and seduced by the beautiful Cleopatra, Cesare throws his support behind her. But is this an alliance of politics or passion? And who will survive to claim the crown after the final bloody battle? All is revealed in the dramatic climax of Handel’s great tragicomedy.

Overflowing with many of the composer’s most memorable arias, whose melodies will set your feet tapping one moment, before breaking your heart the next. From the breathtakingly lovely lament ‘Piangerò’ to the vivacious ‘Da tempeste’ and Caesar’s glorious ‘Va Tacito’ – this is baroque opera at its glittering best, a perfect synthesis of music and drama.

Why this opera

Sarah Connolly and Danielle de Niese in the 2009 production of Giulio Cesare. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Described variously as ‘witty, sexy and tragic’, ‘luxurious and exciting’ and ‘hugely entertaining’ by critics, David McVicar’s Giulio Cesare is one of Glyndebourne’s all-time greats. First seen in 2005, it dazzled audiences with its breathless pace, stylish Bollywood-meets-baroque designs and buoyant mood. This is a production that combines song, dance and spectacle to witty and irrepressibly joyful ends.

Over a decade since its premiere, this Cesare has lost none of its sparkle, and its setting none of its piquant topicality. McVicar plays out Handel’s high-stakes drama of kings and crowns against a backdrop of tea-gowns and sun hats – the stylish trappings of 20th-century English imperialism – unpacking its uneasy alliances, questionable morals and political manipulations along the way.

This is a show that would be as at home on Broadway as in an opera house, an operatic smash-hit that takes no prisoners, and makes converts of even the staunchest Handelian naysayers.

Cast and creative team

Sarah Connolly will return to the role of Giulio Cesare. Photo: Tristram Kenton

This revival reunites many of the team from the opera’s original five-star Glyndebourne run. Renowned baroque specialist and company favourite William Christie (most recently conductor of 2017’s Hipermestra) returns once again to David McVicar’s production to conduct.

He’s joined once again by much-loved mezzo soprano Sarah Connolly in the title role, who was described by critics at the production’s premiere as both ‘magnetic’ and ‘exemplary’, with Patricia Bardon reprising her role of Cornelia – Pompey’s tragic and vengeful widow – and French counter-tenor Christopher Dumaux also returns as the crazed Tolomeo.

Joélle Harvey last appeared at Glyndebourne in the Festival 2017 production of La clemenza di Tito. Photo: Monika Rittershaus

Leading the new cast-members is young American soprano Joélle Harvey – a Glyndebourne regular, most recently seen as Servilia in 2017’s La clemenza di Tito – who steps into exotic temptress Cleopatra’s dancing shoes. British mezzo Anna Stéphany also returns following huge success in La clemenza, where her ‘immaculate technical control and terrific elan’ caught the ear of critics, to take the pivotal role of Sesto.

The cast is completed by American baritone John Moore as general Achilla, and Glyndebourne debut artist Korean-American Kangmin Justin Kim as Cleopatra’s loyal servant Nireno.

Things to look out for

David McVicar’s Cesare takes a playful approach to Handel’s opera, and it’s one mirrored in Robert Jones’s beautiful set-designs. The inherent theatricality of an opera all about role-play and creating an illusion is reflected in designs that quietly suggest a traditional 18th-century theatre. Framing 20th-century action in a period set creates a wonderful visual friction, colliding Handel’s own age with the style of another. Look out for the 18th-century-style wave machine in Cleopatra’s final aria ‘Da tempeste’, which draws inspiration from authentic machines from the composer’s time.

Giulio Cesare is on stage at Festival 2018 from 10 June – 28 July – book now.

Giulio Cesare is supported by Dunard Fund