Cecilia Bartoli, Director of Monte-Carlo Opera, stars as Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto (Julius Caesar in Egypt), opposite Italian countertenor Carlo Vistoli who takes the title role. This new production for Monte-Carlo Opera is to be staged by Davide Livermore.
Giulio Cesare in Egitto, a dramma per musica in three acts, was written by George Friderick Handel to a libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym, after a text by Giacomo Francesco Bussani. It was the only opera that Handel composed for the 1723-24 season of his Royal Academy and was regarded as a masterpiece. It premiered at the King’s Theatre in Haymarket, London, on 20th February, 1724, where it was enthusiastically received, and ran for 13 performances.
It wasn’t performed at all during the 19th century, and was staged again, briefly, in Göttingen in 1922. After World War II, the opera made a comeback, but it was not until the 1970s that the score was reinstated in its entirety, with the original orchestration and tessitura. Largely due to the magnificence of the arias written for Cesare and Cleopatra, the work is now one of the most frequently performed Baroque operas.
The action, which tells the love story between Cesare and Cleopatra, takes place in Alexandria, Egypt, against a backdrop of war, political quarrels and domestic unrest. On the day after Giulio Cesare’s victory over Pompy, Cornelia, begs Cesare to spare her husband’s life, but Tolomeo – the king of Egypt and brother of Cleopatra – has him beheaded. Cornelia’s son, Sesto, is obsessed with killing Tolomeo as an act of vengeance, while Cleopatra uses her charms to win the support of Cesare and thus take sole control of the crown. Initially defeated by her brother’s army, she is rescued by Cesare. Tolomeo continues his pursuit of Cornelia, during which he is finally killed by Sesto, who, together with Cornelia, pledges his loyalty to Cesare and Cleopatra.
The general background of the story is historical, as are the characters – apart from Nireno, Cleopatra’s servant – but the details of Haym ’s story are fictional.
Cecilia Bartoli became Director of Monte-Carlo Opera in January 2023 and has been Artistic Director of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival since 2012, a contract which has been extended to 2026. This is her third portrayal of a Handelian character, following her memorable portrayals of Ariodante and Alcina for Monte-Carlo Opera. She will, of course be returning to Salzburg in May, before which she will appear in recital in Monte-Carlo with Lang Lang, and with John Malkovich in Their Master’s Voice as part of the Printemps des Arts de Monte-Carlo in April.
Following his performance of Tolomeo at Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in May 2022, Forum Opera wrote: “Carlo Vistoli burst into pyrotechnic vocalizations and adorned his song with dazzling ornaments”. He most recently performed at the Wigmore Hall in London in a programme of Italian Arias and Duos with Hugh Cutting and Les Arts Florissantes, and following these performances as Giulio Cesare in Monte-Carlo, will return to Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris in a debut performance in the title role of Handel’s Rinaldo.
Croation countertenor Max Emanuel Cenčić who takes the role of Tolomeo, was described by Opernwelt as being “… blessed with the finest countertenor voice of our day” in 2008, and ever since has continued to stand out amongst counter tenors with the purity of his tone and his passionate presentation. He will appear in Handel’s Flavio in Vienna, and make further appearances as Tolomeo in a staged concert in Versailles, and in Giulio Cesare in Egitto in Vienna.
Grammy Award-winning Sara Mingardo has collaborated with major orchestras and illustrious conductors the world over. Her concert repertoire ranges through Pergolesi and Respighi to Dvořák and Mahler, and her operatic repertoire includes works by Gluck, Monteverdi, Handel, Vivaldi, Rossini, Verdi, Mozart, Donizetti and Berlioz. Sara Mingardo’s next appearances include an orchestral concert featuring Mahler’s Symphony No 3 and Bach’s St John Passion in Zurich, Pamplona and Murcia.
Korean-American countertenor Kangmin Justin Kim who sings Sesto in this production, specialises in the Baroque, Mozart and contemporary music repertoire. He was one of OperaWire’s ‘Top 10 rising stars of 2019’ and was ‘Tipped for the top in 2020’ by Opera Now.
Also in the cast are Peter Kalman as Achilla, leader of the Egyptian army, Federica Spatola as Nireno and Luca Vianello as Curio, Cesare’s general.
This production is staged by Italian singer, stage designer and theatre director Davide Livermore, who has been directing operas since 1999. Among his most recent productions have been Verdi’s Un ballo in Maschera at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at San Carlo in Naples.
The conductor is Gianluca Capuano who will lead Monte-Carlo Opera in Brahms’ A German Requiem later this month, and Cecilia Bartoli and Lang Lang in recital in April. In this production of Giulio Cesare in Egitto he leads the Monte-Carlo Opera Choir and Les Musiciens du Prince – Monaco – in four performances from 24th to 30th January at Monte-Carlo Opera. Tickets for all productions may be reserved on the Monte-Carlo Opera website.
Information sourced from:
Monte-Carlo Opera programme notes
This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz.