Saturday's broadcast of Handel's "Giulio Cesare" will be the last Metropolitan Opera HD broadcast of the 2012-13 season.
Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, is credited for bringing this current production to New York and now to a worldwide audience. In order to bring classic opera to a new and less gray-haired audience, earlier in the season we were introduced to the new opera setting, where Faust was the supervisor of an atom bomb factory, with Mephistopheles no longer being devil but Faust's counter ego, and later on, we accompanied Rigoletto and Gilda to the stage setting in a Las Vegas casino.
David McVicar, stage manager for this current production of Handel's 1724 opera, likens the escapades of the conquering Roman general Julius Caesar to the era of the late 19th century British imperialists. The modern Caesar and his troops are portrayed in bright red uniforms, while the peoples representing colonies within the British empire, such as India and Morocco, reminiscent of how the Romans viewed the Egyptians, appear on stage in a variety of "motley" costumes.
The part of Giulio Cesare is sung by counter tenor David Daniels, whose opening performance in this role has been described in a recent Wall Street Journal review by Heidi Waleson as "master of this repertoire, with every phrase beautifully hitting the mark, making Cesare amusingly pompous, as well as heroic." The role of Cleopatra is performed by Natalie Dessay, whose singing is also lyrical and with sparkle, but her Bollywood (Hindu film industry) dance style, performed in the first act, drew particular acclaim, as maneuvers of arm thrusts and head swivels matching the stabbing rhythms in the music had a droll comic look.
The levity of this scene soon gives way to the more somber reality of the story when Cleopatra's brother, Tolomeo, sung by countertenor Christophe Dumaux, presents Caesar with the murdered head of his bitter rival, Pompey, the king of Egypt, with hopes that this gesture will win for his sister the love of Caesar . The remaining story finds Pompey's wife, Cornelia, sung by mezzo soprano Patricia Bardon, and son Sesto, sung by mezzo soprano Alice Coote, in constant pursuit of revenge for the murder of Pompey, while Caesar and Cleopatra carry on their love affair.
Harry Bicket, the Metropolitan Opera orchestra conductor, is also acclaimed for his role in this production. Anthony Tommasini, in a New York Times review, describes Bicket's conducting as "drawing a lithe, lyrical and stylish performance of this great score." From all reviews and samples from the stage production and music, this performance should provide both entertainment and a study of history. The opera is four hours long; snacks and beverages will be served during the two intermissions.