Introducing… Giulio Cesare
Find out more about this Glyndebourne classic, returning in 2024.
In the video below, soprano Louise Alder (Cleopatra) takes a look at the production’s exquisite costumes.
A brief introduction:
Handel’s most popular opera, both in his lifetime and today, Giulio Cesare 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 not to miss it:
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 topicality. McVicar plays out Handel’s high-stakes drama of kings and crowns against a backdrop of tea-gowns and sun hats – the 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.
A great moment 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.
Cast and creative team:
Renowned Handel specialist Lawrence Cummings returns to Glyndebourne to conduct Giulio Cesare after the ‘brilliant precision’ (The Telegraph) of his Saul in 2018. He’s joined by soprano Louise Alder as Cleopatra (seen most recently as a ‘touching’ and ‘tender’ (The Times) Anne Trulove in last season’s The Rake’s Progress), with American countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen (who sang an ‘astonishingly beautiful’ Athamas in 2023’s Semele) as Giulio Cesare. Rising star mezzo Beth Taylor is the tragic widow Cornelia, with Persian-Canadian countertenor Cameron Shahbazi making his company debut as the scheming Tolomeo.
Public booking opens on 3 March 2024.
Image credits: Main image – Photography by Suteishi/Getty Images. Art direction & design by Ollie Winser | Giulio Cesare, Festival 2005 – photos by Mike Hoban