A stunning new production of Handel’s “Giulio Cesare in Egitto” opened Sunday afternoon at Glimmerglass Opera. This wasn’t your traditional setting of a baroque opera, however. Rather, the look was updated to modern times through the costumes designed by Gabriel Berry. They ranged from sophisticated suits and military garb to opulent, glittery robes, which swirled about the singers.
‘Giulio Cesare in Egitto’
WHERE: Glimmerglass Opera, Route 80, Cooperstown
WHEN: 8 p.m. July 12, 2 p.m. July 14, 2 p.m. July 20, 8 p.m. Aug. 1, 2 p.m. Aug. 5, 8 p.m. Aug. 9, 3 p.m. Aug. 17, 8 p.m. Aug. 21 and 1:30 p.m. Aug. 23.
MORE INFO: (607) 547-2255; email@example.com
The set, too, was a wondrous, double-decker Globe theater-type stage, in which specific small props were wheeled in to great effect. Designed by award winner John Conklin, its extravagance was matched by Robert Wierzel’s illumination, which ranged from a magical moonlight to a hot white desert light.
This entire envelope enclosed the singers, who were all exceptionally strong. Despite the challenge of singing in the baroque style, in which a huge number of notes are sung quickly all over the range and require agility, great ears, and fabulous breath control, no one faltered. Throughout all this, the singers had to act. But director Robin Guarino made sure the singers gave the large crowd its money’s worth.
Mezzo-soprano Laura Vlasak Nolen, in the pants role of Julius Caesar, projected conviction and dominance as the great conqueror, yet also conveyed tenderness in “his” love scenes with Cleopatra. Her voice arched easily over the many phrases, which she finished with great finesse. Her chest tones were wonderfully dark and true.
Nolen was well matched to soprano Lyubov Petrova as Cleopatra. Her voice is a luscious instrument and she knows how to control it and use it well. It was like liquid silver. Her acting, which ranged from a seductive tease to being able to portray great pathos, was notable.
The two had some wonderful duets and each had several solo arias of exquisite lyricism, which pulled the audience in and made the opera’s three-plus hours fly by. Cleopatra’s “I weep my fate” of Act 3 and Caesar’s aria of Act 2, which Nolen delivered effortlessly while seated in a chair, were special.
Countertenor Gerald Thompson, as Ptolomy, was marvelously vicious and edged his agile voice with a good degree of intensity, which added to his malevolence. Mezzo-soprano Lucia Cervoni, as Pompey’s widow, and soprano Aurhelia Varak in the pants role of her son, Sextus, were passionate and intense.
The baroque orchestra under David Stern was exceptional.