Julius Caesar

2 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

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What is it with directors and baroque opera? Here at English National Opera we have Handel's opera seria, containing some of his most exquisite music, incongruously attached to a meaningless and quite hideous production, featuring Andrew Lieberman's set design that appears to be comprised exclusively of untreated chipboard. Throw in a large crocodile (which Caesar shoots with a deafening starting pistol on his arrival) and a huge stuffed giraffe, and it is like an extended episode of 'Sesame Street' set in the storeroom of B&Q.

For a tale based in Ancient Egypt that features the titular future Roman emperor and Egyptian queen Cleopatra, inexplicably Caesar switches between a 'Brokeback Mountain' gay cowboy look – in white vest, jeans, Stetson and cowboy boots – to a tuxedo topped with a stocking mask. Only director Michael Keegan-Dolan knows why. Perhaps because it is Handel's longest opera, Keegan-Dolan simply sought to liven things up with visual distractions, not least the unwelcome presence of dancers from his Fabulous Beast company jiggling around during the singing.

Close your eyes, though, and all is well. Countertenor Lawrence Zazzo pulls out the stops, his powerful, high voice delivering the recitatives and coloratura arias with conviction. His 'Va tacito e nascosto' ('How Silently') is particularly memorable. As Cleopatra, soprano Anna Christy, showed no evidence of a pre-announced heavy cold, and was in good form, holding attention as she should as such a character. Her psychopathic brother Ptolemy saw another fine countertenor and spirited bad-guy performance from Tim Mead. But the surprise treat was Daniela Mack's Sesto, daughter of the slain Pompey (rather than his son, as Handel intended). Her clear, bright voice affecting as an innocent forced to vengeance, while her mother, Cornelia, is given some heavy-duty emoting from mezzo Patricia Bardon.

The stars, however, are conductor Christian Curnyn and his baroque instrument ensemble making a surprisingly full sound and boasting lutenist Jacob Lindberg among their number; the obbligato horn matching Zazzo's trills in 'Va tacito…', a thrilling lesson in virtuosity. Just a shame you have to keep your eyes closed to enjoy it.



Event website: http://www.eno.org
Event phone: 0871 911 0200
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