Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Giulio Cesare

Handel at the Met is often problematic, since the size of the cavernous house doesn't easily lend itself to the intimacy and immediacy of the music. However, the current revival of Giulio Cesare often soars, largely due to the rich vocal talents of the cast. David Daniels meets the challenging title role head on with his stunning countertenor voice; it makes up for his lack of stage presence. Watching him awkwardly move about the stage with little poise was not aesthetically pleasing, but the sound of his voice is like medicine for the ears. In her company debut, mezzo Patricia Bardon brought a beautiful dark tone to Cornelia, wife of the slain Pompey, and Alice Coote was electrifying as the vengeful Sesto. But the evening belonged to colortura wunderkind Ruth Ann Swenson, who sang Cleopatra like I've never heard before. The beauty of her voice is beguiling, and it's even more incredible when you add in the fact that she just finished a round of chemotherapy less than two months ago. (For the record, she got the loudest and most rapturous curtain call applause I've heard all season, including big names like Netrebko, Fleming and Gheorghiu). John Copley's production is stunning but silly, and reminded me of a soundstage for a 1940s studio epic. I didn't really care, though: the transfixing vocal harmony is what grabbed my attention and never let go.

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