Dessay Hndel Cleopatra

As the story begins, Caesar and his men land in Alexandria. He has put down a rebellion by his rival Pompey and chased him to Egypt, where Cleopatra rules in an uneasy power-sharing arrangement with her ruthless brother, Ptolemy. Thinking he can gain Caesar’s backing, Ptolemy presents the emperor with a gift: the severed head of Pompey. Caesar is shocked.

This creates an opportunity for Cleopatra to win the emperor’s favor and claim the throne for herself. The action follows two story lines: Cleopatra’s attempt to woo Caesar for strategic reasons, only to find herself romantically vulnerable, and the effort of Pompey’s widow and son, the majestic Cornelia and the earnest Sextus, to avenge him.

When we first meet Cleopatra, she mocks her brother in a brilliant aria, “Non disperar,” saying that while he is fated to lose the throne, he at least may find love. The aria is staged like a dance number from a Bollywood movie. Ms. Dessay does a nimbly choreographed routine with two female dancers who mimic each other’s moves, complete with arm thrusts and head swivels matched to the stabbing rhythms in the music. As a young woman, the petite Ms. Dessay studied to be a dancer and actress. She is in her element in these scenes, executing maneuvers with a droll comic look and loose physicality.

Ms. Dessay has had some vocal setbacks in recent years and a shaky run last season as Violetta in the Met’s production of Verdi’s “Traviata.” If she is still not at her best, she is mostly in good voice, tossing off coloratura passagework, singing with sparkle in the perky arias and with melting richness in the sad ones. Now and then she seems distracted by the task of singing. In the great aria of seduction “V’adoro pupille,” Cleopatra, pretending to be Lydia, a noblewoman who has been robbed of her birthright by Ptolemy, tries to enthrall Caesar with a serenade. Ms. Dessay mostly sang with plaintive beauty. But there was some audible effort in her breathing and caution in her delivery.

Overall, though, she gives a valiant and endearing performance. When she first presents herself to Caesar as the wronged “Lydia,” she is dressed as a flapper in mourning, all in black, with sunglasses, yet holding a cocktail for comfort.

Mr. Daniels, who played Caesar at the Met in 2007 for the last run of John Copley’s dull 1988 production of this opera, is again remarkable, singing with his full-bodied sound, emphatic delivery and technical command. He conveys the emperor’s vulnerability when he finds himself bewitched by Cleopatra or touched by the anguish of the suffering Cornelia. But when called for, Mr. Daniels can make fun of himself, as in a spirited aria when Caesar must rush from Cleopatra’s chambers to avoid the advancing forces of Ptolemy. As Mr. Daniels stops to dispatch bravura run after bravura run, Ms. Dessay’s frantic Cleopatra keeps trying to push him out the door to safety.

The whole cast is terrific. The French countertenor Christophe Dumaux steals every scene he is in as the calculating Ptolemy. His voice is bright, clear and strong. Tall, trim and athletic, he is a natural onstage. In one taunting aria, he executes a full body flip as easily as tossing off a trill.

The mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon brought a plush, warm voice and dignity to Cornelia. The mezzo-soprano Alice Coote is wonderful as Sextus. The character first appears looking like a British schoolboy in a gray suit with knickers. But Ms. Coote, singing with dusky tone and penetrating sound, conveys the challenge this young man faces in trying to avenge his father.

The hearty baritone Guido Loconsolo, in a notable Met debut, is a muscular and menacing Achillas, a general and a power-hungry adviser to Ptolemy. The countertenor Rachid Ben Abdeslam, also in a Met debut, brings vocal sheen and comic antics as the eunuch Nirenus, the confidant of Cleopatra and Ptolemy. And the baritone John Moore is a vocally robust Curius, a Roman tribune in a Scottish kilt. A kilt? Why not? In one scene Cleopatra appears in jodhpurs.

Mr. Bicket draws a lithe, lyrical and stylish performance of this great score from the Met orchestra, reduced in numbers and complemented by a Baroque continuo group. The violinist David Chan, a concertmaster in the orchestra, got into the act. During one of Mr. Daniels’s arias, Mr. Chan traded ornamented phrases with him while bounding about onstage in a costume, a fez on his head. That is the kind of thing a violinist is seldom prepared for at a conservatory.

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This disc is highly attractive.

Cleopatra’s part in Giulio Cesare must be one of the toughest roles in opera literature – but also one of the most grateful. Handel seems to have been uncommonly inspired when he wrote her arias, which says a lot. He was the true professional who rarely produced anything second-rate but far more often surpassed his generally high level. This opera is certainly inspired from beginning to end and is regarded by many not only as Handel’s best opera but the best opera seria ever.

On this disc Natalie Dessay sings eight arias for Cleopatra plus some recitatives to put the arias in context. These are not all the arias Handel wrote for her. In the firstRead more act there are another two besides: Tutto può: Non disperar and Tu la mia stella. On the other hand Dessay includes two arias that Handel wrote but replaced with those normally heard today. Thus Se pietà is followed by Per dar vita, which was Handel’s first thought for that particular scene. He then reworked Per dar vita as the aria for Sesto in the last act. Troppo crudeli (tr. 13) is interesting to hear. It’s a good piece of music but Handel knew a winner when he had composed Piangerò for the third act and it is probably the best known aria in the whole opera.

Emmanuelle Haïm is one of today’s foremost experts on baroque music and together with Le Concert d’Astrée she has built up an impressive discography, which has met with universal acclaim. They play here at pitch A=415 Hz and produce a biting yet transparent sound, demonstrated on their own in a fresh and springy overture, a properly warlike Sinfonia bellica and superb French horns in the sinfonia that precedes the last scene.

The qualities of Natalie Dessay are well known by now and she is in excellent voice here. Her technical command is something to be taken for granted but still there are copious opportunities to marvel at her virtuosity. Da tempeste il legno infranto is as good an example as any.

But Handel doesn’t only require drama and flair, he also demands beauty of tone. Ms Dessay has that as well – and in abundance. Just listen to V’adoro, pupille! So ravishingly beautiful! Piangerò, the noblest of Handel’s arias and is sung here with warmth and sadness, while the fast middle section, where she expresses her wish to trouble the tyrant night and day with her ghost, is intensely vitriolic. The da capo section is stylishly embellished – as in all the arias. A masterly reading.

She is well partnered by Sonia Prina’s Cesare. The Italian contralto has made Handel something of a speciality. Her homepage lists fourteen Handel operas and among them she has sung Giulio Cesare in Lille under the baton of Emmanuelle Haïm. Natalie Dessay and Sonia Prina are nicely contrasted in the final duet.

Giulio Cesare brims over with wonderful music and no opera lover – bar those who can’t stand baroque music – should be without a complete recording. There are several to choose from. But as a complement to that recording this disc is highly attractive.

-- Göran Forsling, MusicWeb International
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1.

Giulio Cesare, HWV 17: Aria(s)by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano)
Conductor:  Emmanuelle Haïm
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Le Concert d'Astrée
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1724; London, England 

2.

Giulio Cesare, HWV 17: Tutto può donna vezzosaby George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano)
Conductor:  Emmanuelle Haïm
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Le Concert d'Astrée
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1724; London, England 

3.

Giulio Cesare, HWV 17: V'adoro pupilleby George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano)
Conductor:  Emmanuelle Haïm
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Le Concert d'Astrée
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1724; London, England 

4.

Giulio Cesare, HWV 17: Venere bellaby George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano)
Conductor:  Emmanuelle Haïm
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Le Concert d'Astrée
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1724; London, England 

5.

Giulio Cesare, HWV 17: Vuo dar vitaby George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano)
Conductor:  Emmanuelle Haïm
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Le Concert d'Astrée
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1724; London, England 

6.

Giulio Cesare, HWV 17: Piangerò la sorte miaby George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano)
Conductor:  Emmanuelle Haïm
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Le Concert d'Astrée
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1724; London, England 

8.

Giulio Cesare, HWV 17: Da tempeste il legno infrantoby George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano)
Conductor:  Emmanuelle Haïm
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Le Concert d'Astrée
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1724; London, England 

9.

Giulio Cesare, HWV 17: Caro! Più amabile beltàby George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano)
Conductor:  Emmanuelle Haïm
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Le Concert d'Astrée
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1724; London, England 

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