The next day one other Thomas protégé, the rising countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, headlined the West Edge Opera (WEO)’s 2022 Competition manufacturing of Handel’s arguably best (and positively my most favourite) opera, Giulio Cesare in Egitto. After pressured by Covid rules to carry out outdoor at Bruns Amphitheater (residence of Cal Shakes) final yr, this yr West Edge Opera went again indoors and secured the gorgeous Scottish Ceremony Heart in Oakland, opening with Giulio Cesare on July 23. The efficiency seen on July 32 was the second of the three.
Giulio Cesare is the fourth Handel items carried out by WEO, following Acis and Galatea (2004), Serse (2011) and Agrippina (2016). Through the pre-performance discuss, WEO Common Director (and director for this manufacturing) Mark Streshinsky talked about that the goals for WEO Summer time Competition are to carry out one opera earlier than Mozart’s time, one modern opera and one opera from latest instances!
For the uninitiated, Handel’s opera, with libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym, doesn’t cope with William Shakespeare’s well-known play, however as a substitute it chronicles Cesare’s amorous journey in Egypt (therefore the title), the place he pursues his enemy Pompeo to Egypt, solely to fall in like to Cleopatra and nearly being killed by his brother, Tolomeo, the boy king of Egypt. The work has been touted by many as being Handel’s best, and as musicologist Paul Henry Lang mentioned, “It’s admired for its very good vocal writing, its dramatic affect, and its deft orchestral preparations.”
Handel’s rating was closely abridged for this manufacturing, with a purpose to minimize the efficiency time from 4.5 to barely lower than 3 hours. Streshinky talked about that a few of the “meh” arias had been minimize out, however personally I assumed that it went past than simply omissions of such arias, as others even misplaced their “B” and “A*” sections (out of the A-B-A* kind), most noticeably on Cleopatra’s aria di bravura “Da tempeste!”
This has all the time been my pet peeve. Whereas I’m personally effective with omissions of arias, “mutilating” A-B-A* kind ought to by no means be performed! I regard the complete type of “Da tempeste” (as proven within the video beneath) as equally lovely and full as, say, Wagner’s “Liebestod.” Since no one in the suitable thoughts would minimize quick “Liebestod.” please don’t do this to my beloved Handel!
The curtailment was extra noticeable in Act 2 and significantly Act 3, the place it was so shut for being merely simply excerpts. For somebody that was tremendous aware of the opera, it did current some holes within the dramaturgy, as you’ll anticipate some scenes to comply with a specific scene, and but it moved to the following one!
However, I felt that the entire efficiency final Sunday was better the sum of its elements, significantly because of the dedication of the entire forged and crew amidst all adversities. Through the pre-performance discuss Streshinky was apologetic concerning the costumes jumbled between Roman interval and trendy clothes, because the costume designer Ron S. McCan was down with Covid earlier than opening night time! I didn’t thoughts the numerous nature of the costumes in any respect; in truth it jogged my memory of the caricature beneath (typically attributed to Giulio Cesare, however likely from Flavio), the place the castrati wore army Roman attires, and the soprano was in a up to date robe!
Strenshinky decidedly took a slapstick method in his interpretation, with numerous “hanky-panky” much like his route for Eliogabalo final yr. Whereas in itself it was a sound studying, inevitably it marred a few of the tender moments from the opera. Living proof was Cornelia’s lament “Deh piangete” from Act 2, the place it was performed whereas she minimize grass in Tolomeo’s backyard, drawing laughter from the viewers as a substitute!
Nevertheless, his pièce de resistance, the LED “butterflies” dancing (courtesy of choreographer Marcos Vedoveto) round Cesare and Cleopatra’s making love throughout “V’adoro, pupille” proper earlier than intermission was really well worth the value of admission!
Streshinky talked about that he selected the placement primarily based on its nice acoustics for unamplified voices; nevertheless I encourage to vary, at the very least from the place I sat at Part 3. The huge corridor of the Scottish Ceremony jogged my memory numerous the high-ceiling church buildings in Germany, the place the voices include a noticeable echo. Contemplating that the singers saved transferring, it created issues particularly with the projection of a few of the singers’ voices. It affected some singers greater than others, although.
Within the title position, Cohen really got here into his personal, in comparison with the final time I noticed him. He completely personified younger Caesar, a bit naïve and playful, and his voice had grown hotter and nearly velvety. He had some issues with the quick passages of “Empio, dirò, tu sei” however in any other case he excelled. “Va tacito” was significantly memorable (though the horn obbligato had some flubs.)
As Cleopatra, Shawnette Sulker had the suitable temperament and voice because the sassy Egyptian Queen, nevertheless I assumed she was the one suffered probably the most from the placement. To my ears, she had slight wobble on her high notes, and someway it was amplified by the corridor. It was significantly noticeable on the gradual arias, particularly on “Piangerò la sorte mia” that she carried out full A-B-A*. I nonetheless want she carried out the complete “Da tempeste” as a substitute!
Veteran Katherine Pracht sang Cornelia expressively, and Coit—not like yesterday—let free within the trouser position Sesto, dazzled with rapid-fire precision in Sesto’s rage arias. Michael Parham, Glenn Healy and Jasmine Johnson competently accomplished the comprimario roles of Achilla, Curio and Nirena respectively (I used to be stunned Achilla just about retained his arias). Countertenor Cenk Karaferya was underwhelming in his tackle the villain Tolomeo, regardless of wanting appropriately nasty within the position!
Conductor Christine Brandes drew a superb rapport with the orchestra, she led them in a leisurely paced studying. She was delicate to the singers as properly, and he or she wouldn’t hesitate to decelerate to accommodate them. As WEO minimize all of the Choruses, there was no Refrain in sight; as a replacement we acquired seven dancers who largely acted as Cleopatra and Tolomeo’s entourages. They contributed to an attractive dance in the course of the closing duet “Caro! Bella!”
All in all, whereas it wasn’t good, it was nonetheless a really pleasant present due to everyone concerned. The viewers was really appreciative that night, and it actually warmed my coronary heart! What an incredible Handel weekend available, and I’m hoping for extra such weekend round right here sooner or later!