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Scenes from Los Angeles Opera's Giulio Cesare
Photos: courtesy and © Ken Howard

Los Angeles Opera's Giulio Cesare:
a feast of countertenor voices

This opera about Caesar's victory over the Egyptians and his seduction by Cleopatra is a Handelian celebration of high voices, and particularly so in this production.

How often does one get to see an opera in which most all the males roles - and being about the spoils of war, this opera has more than the usual number - are sung in the very high registers? With the lead male characters - Caesar, emperor of Rome (David Daniels); Ptolemy, King of Egypt (Bejun Mehta); Sesto, son of Pompey (Paula Rasmussen); and Nireno, Cleopatra's eunuch (David Walker) - appropriated to three countertenors and a mezzo-soprano, high voices expectedly reigned over low voices - consigned to the minor roles of Achilla, counsellor to Ptolemy (bass James Cresswell) and Curio, a Roman tribune (baritone Pablo Porras). The orchestra played on period instruments under the masterly direction of Harry Bicket, an authority on Early Music.

The rare presence of three of the world's outstanding young countertenors was enough to sustain one's interest through four hours of an opera laden with layers of intrigue, revenge, betrayal, rivalry and all the spoils of war. The plot is a web of complicated dramatic situations for which Handel wrote some of his most inspired music for the stage, including notably a trove of solo arias - for the male characters and especially for Cleopatra (sung and acted beautifully by soprano Elizabeth Futral). It is thus not surprising that today Giulio Cesare is, as it was in the composer's time, generally considered the most satisfactory, if not the greatest, of Handel's operas.

The unconventional staging, which seamlessly handled the complex libretto's call for numerous scene changes, with the sets and costumes clearly designed without regard for historical accuracy, placed the events in shifting contexts of time. This acceptable use of artistic license added visual appeal to the production which, boasting strong performances by the exceptional cast of singers, proved itself most worthy of Handel's great opera.

Of Unusual VoicesGiulio Cesare Ariodante David Walker: Profile Interview Calendar
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