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This was a welcome return for Tim Albery's production of Handel's Giulio Cesare for Opera North, first seen seven years ago. However, an unusually severe traffic snarl-up meant that, this time round, I can only comment on the second half - Theatre Royal, Nottingham, UK, 6 November 2019.
As before, Leslie Travers' ingenious set centred on a truncated pyramid that revolved to show us the gold-plated interior of Cleopatra's luxurious palace, or a dark external wall as the backdrop for more murky goings-on.
Maria Sanner's mannish Cesar was utterly convincing, whether surveying the aftermath of his defeat at the hands of Achilla and his forces, or eagerly flirting with Lucie Chartin's winningly girlish Cleopatra.
Anyone still harbouring doubts about the dramatic suitability of the baroque da capo aria need only to have heard Chartin in her great aria in captivity, 'Piangerò la sorte mia'. The steel in her voice as she envisages her ghost tormenting her hostile brother Tolomeo softened into a repeat of the opening even more poignant than before.
Catherine Hopper's Cornelia was a picture of long-suffering desolation. Heather Lowe, all youthful impetuosity as her son, Sesto, brought real fire to his justice aria, 'La giustizia ha gia sull'arco'. The moment when he finally stabs Tolomeo was genuinely shocking, even though well prepared in earlier scenes.
James Laing was the only member of the cast to revisit his role, as a repulsively sleazy, manipulative Tolomeo, his ringing, clear voice offsetting his sinister blue eye-shadow, and his unnervingly slinky movements on stage. Darren Jeffery, as his eventually disillusioned right-hand man Achilla, made his shift of allegiance completely believable.
Conductor Manoj Kamps, taking over from Christian Curnyn for this one performance, brought pace and energy to Handel's score, and the Opera North orchestra responded with utterly stylish playing.
Copyright © 30 November 2019