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A baroque hit in Chicago

Civic Opera House
11/02/2007 -  & 6, 11, 15*, 19, 24, 28 November, 1 December, 2007
G.F. Handel: Giulio Cesare

David Daniels (Giulio Cesare), Danielle de Niese (Cleopatra), Patricia Bardon (Cornelia), Maite Beaumont (Sextus), Christophe Dumaux (Tolomeo), Wayne Tigges (Achilla), Gerald Thompson (Nirenus), Darren Stokes (Curius)

David McVicar (Stage Director), Robert Jones (Set Designer), Brigitte Reiffenstuel (Costume Designer), Andrew George (Choreographer), Paule Constable (Lighting Designer)

Emmanuelle Haïm (Conductor), Donald Nally (Chorus Master), Craig Terry (Stageband Conductor)

Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus

The Chicago Lyric Opera has imported this production from Glyndebourne, where it was first presented in 2005 under William Christie. (It has also been issued on an acclaimed Opus Arte DVD.) Three of the Glyndebourne cast are in Chicago as well: Danielle de Niese as Cleopatra (who is also the company’s poster girl this season), Patricia Bardon, glamorous as Cornelia, and Christophe Dumaux as the hilariously frenzied Tolomeo.

The big question is: how well does the production fare in a theater almost three times the size of its original venue? The answer: amazingly well. In fact the golden tones of Robert Jones’s unit set seem almost a continuation of glowing design of the Ardis Krainik Theater. What we see is a baroque stage with deep perspective and a roiling sea at the very back. The Romans are portrayed as 18th century British soldiers while the oriental world of Cleopatra is straight out of Bollywood. The numerous scenic changes are all deftly accomplished.

David McVicar’s sly direction manages to combine an almost whimsical larkiness with deeply-felt seriousness. Andrew George’s choreography adds immeasurably to the enjoyment level. Cleopatra gets to be sassy, brassy, calculating - and genuinely broken-hearted. Danielle de Niese has a lot of both singing and dancing to do and she carries it all off with great aplomb. David Daniels has refined the title role in many productions and his airy voice seems to sail effortlessly through his many scenes and arias.

Christophe Dumaux gives a vivid portrayal of Tolomeo as a spoiled - and perhaps deranged - punk. Much focus is given to the mother/son duo of Cornelia and Sesto and their struggle to rescue Cornelia from both a Roman threat (in the person of Achilla) and an Egyptian threat (Tolomeo). Maite Beaumont vividly portrays the ardent schoolboy Sesto. Gerald Thompson is an insinuating Nirenus who may seem effete but manages a brave deed. The two bass-baritones, Wayne Tigges as Achilla, and Darren Stokes as Curius, add a welcome contrast to the high voices of the six other main roles.

An orchestra of about 50 players is led by the vibrant Emmanuelle Haïm conducting from the harpsichord. She is, incidentally, the first female conductor in the Lyric Opera’s history. It’s a safe bet that she will be asked back.

There are over 70 separate musical items in the work, including 27 da capo arias and, with two intermissions, the performance lasts four hours ands fifty minutes. It’s almost indecent to have so much entertainment delivered in one go, but since it falls under the category of high art and is therefore nourishing as well as fun, what can one do but submit? This is truly one of the great shows on the opera stage today.

Michael Johnson



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