G. F. Handel's
Giulio Cesare—Dress Rehearsal: Orchestra London
The Grand Theatre, London, Ontario, Wednesday June 2, 2010
by Brian Hay
The supporting players are strong. Outside of the recitatives Christopher Dunham (Curio) and Christy Derksen (Nireno) had little to sing. But when they did, they delivered. Their acting was important to the production as well. Each has an abundance of gestures to deliver around the actions of the central characters and they both did their work beautifully. Mark Gough did an excellent job in the role of the multi-faceted Achilla. He captured the ruthlessness and the integrity of the character well. And his singing was stellar. His baritone voice has no harshness whatsoever.
Lucia Cesaroni is a stunning Cleopatra. Her voice has just enough wildness to lift the impulsive nature of the youthful character to that intangible level that separates good from great. Roseanne van Sandwijk performed the role of Sesto beautifully. Her airy mezzo tone was a perfect counter for the darker hues of Sophie Louise Roland's Cornelia. When they sang the duet that closes the first act their voices fit each other like a pair of well tailored gloves. Roland's dusky timbre rode atop a section played largely by cellos and led seamlessly to the lighter hues of the violins and the airy caress of Roseanne van Sandwijk's softer tones. It's a musical device that's employed several times in this opera. In this production, it's done very well.
Sophie Louise Roland could probably make a signature role out of Cornelia. Her ability to project emotion with gestures is exceptional and her timing borders on the uncanny. She coaxes a myriad of conflicting emotions from her voice. She can give it a rawness that brings despair to new levels or she can sing with a beauty that's unbelievable. And she finds the middle ground that adds drama to those highs and lows.
This production features a pair of excellent counter tenors. Drew Minter was a fabulous Cesare. His voice fits Cesare's music perfectly and his acting is great. He carries off the Bush-like persona flawlessly but makes him very human as well. Ian Howell's portrayal of Tolomeo was chilling. And he has a beautiful voice. His final aria was heart-rending and also served as a reminder that his character too, was vulnerable.
The playing of the orchestra was impeccable. The balance between them and the singers was flawless. The tempos (Conductor) Timothy Vernon chose were varied but always served the score. There was an abundance of musical highlights. When Roseanne van Sandwijk sang 'Cara speme' it soared over the Grand like a caress from above. Drew Minter's performance of 'Va Tacito' was definitive. The aria by Cleopatra's that opened the second act was ravishing. The duet and chorus that close the opera was radiant. These notations are just small parts of a long list.
The staging fits the material well. One central piece serves as the main body while small props are moved to and from according to the demands of the material. Lighting is used to warm or cool the atmosphere accordingly. And it's very effective. When it's stark it's very stark. When it's warm it's radiant. Set Designer Ryan Wineinger and Lighting Designer Jason Hand created an excellent atmosphere for the piece. The scene changes set up by Stage Manager Kelly Luft and her crew flow smoothly. The pace that Director Timothy Nelson sets keeps the production moving briskly.
Director Timothy Nelson is right in saying this production isn't a political statement. It makes a statement about greed and lust though. Most of the characters are driven by both and could care less about anything other than their own goals. Cleopatra uses her (less than willing) servant as a dancing coat rack to celebrate a small victory. Cesare walks over Tolomeo's customs without a second thought. Tolomeo hides treachery behind a mask of friendship. Achilla covets the wife of the man he had murdered. The victors celebrate heedless of the carnage they've caused. The only characters with even a measure of innocence are Cornelia, Sesto and Nireno. But Nelson wisely often handles these things with a light touch. When Cesare humiliates Tolomeo he plays it like a buffoon caught in unfamiliar surroundings. When Cleopatra does her little jig with the unwilling Nireno the air of 'why me?' projected by the serving girl is unmistakeable. There are some harsh scenes but they fit the piece as well as the comic ones do. Nelson never forgets to be entertaining.
And those balloons were a nice touch. Bravo!
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