Opera review: Giulio Cesare, Glyndebourne

Glyndebourne

It comes as no surprise that David McVicar's production of Handel's Giulio Cesare is having its third Glyndebourne outing in five seasons. The prolific McVicar has never done anything more poised than this witty, sexy and tragic post-colonial framing of Handel's Caesar and Cleopatra tale. Along with the Nikolaus Lehnhoff Tristan, also to be revived this season, it is the best thing Glyndebourne has done in the last decade - even if it does lack a fraction of the inspirational tingle that brought the house down in 2005, when its echoes of the Iraq war had great immediacy.

McVicar has returned to Sussex to direct this revival himself, and the investment shows. The broad themes of his historically and psychologically aware production would be strong enough to withstand a less demanding supervisor. But only McVicar would be creatively alive to the detailed way Handel's vocal lines can be made to mimic everything from oriental Bollywood-style routines to machinegun fire. And surely only McVicar would now coax such a richly worked performance from Danielle de Niese, whose Cleopatra four years ago catapulted her to stardom and who has now added new depth to her dazzle.

There are some notable performances in this strongly cast revival. Sarah Connolly's worldly-wise and reflective Caesar, impeccably sung, is a connoisseur's counterpoint to De Niese's crowd-pleasing Cleopatra. The French mezzo Stéphanie d'Oustrac, new to the production, shone as the impulsive and increasingly traumatised Sesto. Christophe Dumaux and Rachid Ben Abdeslam repeat their funny characterisations of the demented Tolomeo and the sly Nireno, while Patricia Bardon is again the tragic Cornelia. Laurence Cummings conducts incisively, and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment play marvellously. Grab a ticket if you can, but at least you can watch the DVD if you can't.

Contributor

Martin Kettle

The GuardianTramp

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