David McVicar's 2005 triumph at Glyndebourne: Giulio Cesare, with Sarah Connolly and Danielle de Niese, an opera of overwhelming passions and life-or-death power struggles!
It is 49 B.C, and Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great are locked in a struggle for control of the Roman Empire. When Caesar triumphs and conquers Egypt, the defeated Pompey seeks help from Ptolemy, the son of a former ally. Unhelpful in the extreme, Ptolemy murders Pompey and then offers his head to Caesar as a present, hoping to gain the powerful general's favor. Caesar is disgusted by Ptolemy, and angered that it prevents him from making peace with Pompey. Cornelia laments her husband Pompey's death and her son Sesto swears to take revenge.
A new player enters the field: Ptolemy's sister Cleopatra also seeks to obtain Caesar's favor herself, hoping to depose her brother and have the throne of Egypt to herself. Cleopatra visits Caesar in the guise of Lydia, one of the queen's handmaids. Caesar immediately falls in love but their romancing is interrupted by the arrival of Cornelia and Sesto, who wish to reclaim Pompey's sword. They all go to Ptolemy's palace together. Meanwhile, the servant Achilla has informed Ptolemy of Caesar's anger, dissuading the young ruler from relying on Caesar and even offering to kill Caesar in exchange for Cornelia's hand in marriage. When Caesar, Cornelia and Sesto arrive at the palace, the Egyptian king immediately falls in love with Cornelia, imprisons her, betraying the promise he made to Achilla.
Giulio Cesare was premiered in London in 1724 at the Royal Academy of Music, under Handel's personal direction. This innovative staging of this 2005 performance, with its colonial costumes and settings, sets the opera in late 19th century Egypt, recasting the Romans as the occupying British. McVicar's direction celebrates both the comical and tragic dimensions of the opera's characters. The work also features one of Handel's most beautiful scores, and the composer's musical genius is magnified by William Christie's work with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. As to the two stars, Sarah Connolly makes for an imposingly powerful but rigorously fair-minded Caesar, while Danielle De Niese artfully incarnates the enigmatic character of Cleopatra through alternatively mischievous and heartfelt arias.
Academy of St Martin in the Fields