GIULIO CESARE IN EGITTO
Cecilia Bartoli enchants as a sexy Cleopatra with cascades of coloratura
When George Frideric Handel premiered his “Giulio Cesare in Egitto” in London on 20 February 1724, he could hardly have imagined that nearly 300 years later, his three-act opera – often hailed as his best – would be eliciting cries of “triumph” from the press and public in this production from the Salzburg Whitsun Festival.
In her debut as artistic director of this Festival, the heavenly-voiced soprano Cecilia Bartoli has not only taken on the demanding lead female role of Cleopatra, but has also surrounded herself with no fewer than four of the world’s best countertenors – Andreas Scholl, Philippe Jaroussky, Christophe Dumaux and Jochen Kowalski – and one of the finest and noblest mezzo-sopranos of our time, Anne Sofie von Otter.
While the countertenors vie with “la Bartoli” for the boldest, pearliest cascades of coloraturas, the diva herself shapes each phrase with seemingly effortless ease and melts into the warm waves of winds and strings from the original-sound ensemble Il Giardino Armonico. Under the “fabulous” (Kurier) conducting of Giovanni Antonini, the ensemble plays “tautly, with marked rhythms, but also with contemplative calm” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung).
The staging by the directorial team of Moshe Leiser and Patrick Caurier (“Clari” and “Le Comte Ory,” both with Bartoli) is packed with visuals that evoke Middle Eastern/ North African trouble spots, while using lightness and fantasy to take the edge off any overly realistic brutality. “Humor and knowing irony make this production so thoroughly successful and thrilling” (Kleine Zeitung).