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Another OIC/Aradia success

Jane Mallett Theatre
01/31/2010 -  
George Frideric Handel: Giulio Cesare in Egitto

David Trudgen (Giulio Cesare), Charlotte Corwin (Cleopatra), Jenny Cohen (Cornelia), Catherine Rooney (Sextus), Amanda Jones (Tolomeo), James Levesque (Achilla), Keith Lam (Nireno), Patrick Tweddle (Curio)
The Aradia Ensemble, Kevin Mallon (Conductor)
Virginia Reh (Dramatic Advisor and Lighting)

D. TrudgenCourtesy of Opera in Concert)

Toronto’s Opera in Concert has been around since 1974 presenting infrequently-performed (if not downright rare) works featuring up-and-coming singers. Past performers include Michael Schade, Ben Heppner, Richard Margison, Isabel Bayrakdarian, and many others who have gone on to solid, even stellar, careers.

For Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto the singers were accompanied by the Aradia Ensemble in a 17-member configuration under the adept direction of Kevin Mallon. Three of OIC’s previous concerts with Aradia (rarities all) have resulted in well-received recordings. The smallish size of the orchestra was no serious detriment in the 500-seat venue, although I regret the absence of a theorbo. (The very sight of a theorbo helps conjure up a “Period” experience, does it not?)

OIC has a fine chorus, but this was one element cut for this (understandably) edited performance. (In fact most performances of the work are edited, no matter where performed.) The opera contains almost four hours of music, a daunting prospect for a concert audience, not to mention for any group preparing a single performance. With one interval, OIC’s presentation lasted a bit under three hours. Given its high quality I wouldn’t have minded hearing more, but the cuts did no damage and we still received a good sense of the work’s dramatic arc.

David Trudgen is a young Canadian counter-tenor with appearances coming up with the Opera Theater of St. Louis and the Wexford Festival. Lucky them! He did a wonderful job in the title role and I can’t wait to hear him again. He joins two other counter-tenors I have heard in the past few months (Anthony Roth Costanzo and Andrew Pickett) who will surely help assure the continuation of the great counter-tenor revival.

Charlotte Corwin (Cleopatra) impressed me last summer as Belinda in Opera Erratica’s Dido and Aeneas (reviewed on www.Concertonet.com). In addition to having a pure and lovely voice, she transmits pleasure in singing. She deftly and securely captured the various moods of this demanding role.

The role of Cornelia is always a bit of a problem. If any character in the opera deserves a mad scene, or at least a juicy vengeance aria, it is she. But she must always be dignified and melancholy, even when threatening suicide. Jenny Cohen does a decent job, especially with some well-pointed recitatives.

The truly vengeful character in the opera is Cornelia’s mercurial son, Sextus. More preparation time might have helped Catherine Rooney develop her portrayal. As it was, her voice is right for the role and she encompasses it musically.

Amanda Jones, like all the cast, has the right voice for her role, that of its villain: Tolomeo, Cleopatra’s brother and co-ruler, enamoured of Cornelia. (That he is also Cleopatra’s husband is an icky fact that the Handel opera declines to address.) Here again, more preparation time would probably have helped her develop a more incisive - even venomous - vocal edge.

James Levesque delivered a straightforward, full-voiced Achilla, at first Tolomeo’s lieutenant, then rival for Cornelia, then disaffected turncoat.

Keith Lam displayed an attractive voice as Nireno, Cleopatra’s confidant. Unfortunately his one aria was cut. Patrick Twaddle was fine as Curio, Roman tribune and yet another aspiring suitor for Cornelia.

We were treated to one chorus at the conclusion, performed by the soloists in ensemble; this worked well.

The orchestra gave all evidence in delighting in Handel’s endlessly inventive score. Special mention must be made of horn player Derek Conrod, who used a strange-looking valveless instrument. His accompaniment to Giulio's Va tacito e nascoto was a brilliant high point.

Virginia Reh’s minimal staging and lighting were extremely effective in establishing the basic dramatic elements of each of the several scenes.

I must admit I was expecting the occasional longuer in this performance, but happily there were none. Altogether it was thoroughly satisfying, with OIC doing exactly what it should be doing: showcasing a well-chosen cast in a well-prepared performance.

Michael Johnson



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