Handelís Julius Caesar is one of his finest operas.
This dramma per musica was first performed in 1724, and Handel
conducted more than forty performances of the work. It is one of the
most frequently performed of Handelís operas.
This performance is cut a great deal. Many of the recitatives
are shortened, and a scene at the end of act II, and several numbers
from act III, have been cut. Unfortunately, many of these cuts involve
Ptolemy, played by the great James Bowman. Bowman is excellent, though
with his shaved head and bouffant pants he looks a bit strange. The
costumes for the performance are certainly idiosyncratic - in fact,
the entire production design is exaggerated, the costumes verge on the
Janet Baker as Caesar is very good, but, like most
of the singers in this opera, her acting suffers from this work having
been filmed in the studio. Opera singers are not all gifted actors,
but it must be much more difficult for them when there is no audience.
Sarah Walker as Cornelia is uninspired; she sings with
so much vibrato, and her face shows so little emotion, that she almost
seems to have wandered into the wrong opera. Her acting is about as
good as that of most soap opera actors; her melodramatic expressions
recall silent movies.
This DVD suffers from poor video quality, and, since
this was filmed in a television studio, the sound lacks richness. At
times, the balance between the orchestra and voices is a bit lacking.
In addition, there is very little that is truly baroque (at least the
way the term is understood today) in Charles Mackerrasís orchestra.
It sounds quite modern, in spite of the use of a harpsichord.
But in spite of all these negative comments, the music
is great. This is, after all, one of Handelís finest operas. There are
some treasurable moments, and the chance to see the great James Bowman
makes it all worthwhile.