> Haendel - Julius Caesar [KM]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Georg Friedrich HAENDEL (1685-1759)
Julius Caesar

Janet Baker: Julius Caesar
Valerie Masterson: Cleopatra
Sarah Walker: Cornelia
Della Jones: Sextus
James Bowman: Tolomeo
John Tomlinson: Achillas
John Kitchiner: Curio
Tomemlyn Williams: Nirenus
Brian Casey: Pothinus
English National Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Sir Charles Mackerras
(Note: this opera is sung in English - the original was in Italian.)
Rec: 1984, Limehouse Studios.
Sound format: PCM stereo
Subtitle languages: GB, D, F, SP
Picture format: 4:3
Region code: 2, 5
Picture standard: PAL
ARTHAUS 100 308 [180 min.]

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 ridiculous.

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.

Kirk McElhearn

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