Introducing… Giulio Cesare
Everything you need to know about Giulio Cesare, which is available to watch online for free as part of Glyndebourne Open House on Sunday 9 August
In this instalment of our Introducing series we explore David McVicar’s production.
Giulio Cesare is part of Glyndebourne Open House – a weekly series of free operas, available on YouTube.
A brief introduction:
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 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 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.
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:
In the pit is baroque specialist and company favourite William Christie, conducting the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. He’s joined 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’. Playing Cleopatra is Danielle de Niese, in her Glyndebourne debut role, which critics called ‘a star performance’ in the 2005 reviews, praising her ‘sparkling vocal virtuosity’ and ‘dramatic charisma’.
Image credits: Giulio Cesare, Festival 2005 | photos by Mike Hoban