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MET's Giulio Cesare

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Who went to the house..? Who saw it at the cinema...? I went, and have to say, what wonderful 5 hours did I I spent..!

More to come, but...for now, just two names that OUGHT to be applauded here...Christophe Dumaux as Ptolomeo and Patricia Bardon as Cornelia. Oh my... 'nouf said...clapping.gifclapping.gifclapping.gif

And then, a beautiful "Se pieta di me non senti" by Dessay...

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I didn't see it, but I am glad to hear Dessay is doing better. She has had a lot of problems vocally, in my opinion, ever since her node surgeries. This was an amazing singer early in her career, and I actually thought her career was basically over from reviews I have read in recent years, but it makes me glad to hear that she sang well today. Maybe it is a case of her re-learning her technique after the troubles she has had.

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I saw it in the cinema. Dumaux was a fabulous actor, and he even got me past my great dislike of countertenors. (My usual question when hearing one is, "Would I prefer to hear Marilyn Horne sing it?," and the answer is, invariably, "Yes.") I had heard him before at the Dallas Fair Grounds, where pre-Winspear Dallas heard opera through the worst acoustics I've ever heard. (A perfectly audible singer would move five feet to the right, and it was as if he or she was suddenly behind a tall, concrete wall.) He also was in his 20's in that Dallas performance of Unolfo in "Rodelinda," and his voice may have filled out more in the meantime. For people who hear him in the house, was his voice strong? (The miking for HD's distorts the relative volumes of the singers.) He looked like the love child of Kevin Kline in the "Pirates of Penzance" and Mariusz Kwiecien.

Bardon I liked very much after her first aria, in which she sounded far off pitch to me. My favorite moment of hers was the duet with Sextus at the end of Act II: she and Alice Coote were so simpatico, voice- and interpretation-wise. My favorite singing was Coote's, apart from the opening aria, which was fine, but Joyce DiDonato recently got a much deeper performance from a Juilliard graduate student, Rachel Wilson, during her master class there earlier this year. (Sadly, it's the only segment of the master class that was un-published from the school's YouTube channel.) Bicket may have taken it at a faster clip. I love Coote's voice: it has brightness and underlying heft.

For me Dessay's high point was the lament that ended Act II. Maybe the tessitura was low for her, because towards the end she spun some lovely high notes, but it sounded to me that there wasn't a floor to her voice for most of the fast coloratura singing. In the slower singing, where she has to show sorrow, depth, and maturity, she's amazing. She was a fantastic actress, and I thought she did a wonderful job with the dancing.

I also loved Guido Loconsolo's Achillas. I kept wishing he was singing Giulio Cesare. I once heard Norman Treigle sing it on a bad vocal day for him, and it was 100 times preferable than hearing Daniels. Did I mention a great dislike of countertenors?

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Daniels singing did not flourish, IMO. His coloratura sounded strained, and the low register was very opaque. Everytime Dumaux came singing right after Daniels, you cold tell the difference. Dumaux sounded rich, powerful...it was like night and day. The Coote/Bardon duetto was so beautiful...

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Daniels' voice didn't have much color.

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Daniels' voice didn't have much color.

Not at all...he seemed to struggle with his fioritura choices, and looked breathless at times. He was also very mannered, whereas Dumaux seemed to be at ease with his vocal parts and acting. I LOVED him.

BTW...I hated Dessay's vaudeville act with the umbrella.

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Did I mention a great dislike of countertenors?

Yes, as someone who didn't grow up with opera and has never quite "gotten" them, that's very interesting to read. I wonder how widespread the feeling is among knowledgeable and longtime opera lovers.

The Baroque is not at all my favorite era, and Giulio Cesare is about the fourth or fifth HD transmission I passed up this year for one reason or another, in this case because I didn't think I could handle 5 hours of Handel. But as it turned out this afternoon, I never turned off the radio.

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The countertenor issue. Well, for me I had it clear today, seeing two men in the parts, one whom I didn't feel comfortable with and another for which I just was thinking "what a beautiful voice", despite the non-manly sound.

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Believe it or not, David Daniels was at one time (about 15 years ago) the best counter tenor around and who actually helped a lot of people accept the sound. He broke down a lot of barriers for the counter tenor. I suspect he will be remembered as one of the ground breaking counter tenors. He made that voice type much more mainstream. But I have heard clips and I know that he is no longer singing at the level he once was. I have heard that he is teaching at least some of the time. It is sad to see singers that I liked one by one fall from grace. It is like watching Gods fall and die.

I have to admit that I tend to prefer mezzos (females) doing these roles as trouser roles. But I try to keep an open mind. Sometimes it is nice to see a real man playing a man, but I think the females in drag usually have a richer and more impressive sound. Very few counter tenors seem to be able to color the voice which also means they do not express emotion as well.

kfw, if sung well and repeats left intact (which makes it longer but actually is how the da capo arias should be sung) it can actually be a wonderful evening. I look at a Handel opera almost like a concert of one bravura aria after another. Then, it gets exciting (sort of like a ballet gala with one great variation after another). I love to hear what types of embellishments the singer will add to the repeat. It is interesting how some singers (or maybe the conductors or friends who prepare their embellishments) sing ornaments that sound so "right" while others will sing jarring embellishments that just do not sound right at all, and you aren't always sure why. I love extra trills thrown in anytime though! I have seen Guilio Cesare a couple of times. Once well sung (and David Daniels was in the cast as well as the amazing Rosemary Joshua as Cleopatra) and another time horribly sung and it put me to sleep. The performance that was heavily cut is the one that was actually much more boring!!! The art of ornamenting the music makes or breaks Handel for me. If the arias are cut of the repeats (therefore no embellishments) or the singers have ridiculous embellishments that make you laugh out loud.....well, then Handel fails big time. But with the right singers Handel's operas will actually fly by and be a total joy.

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The five hours-(sans the intermezzos)-went by wonderfully today for me, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better than my Wagnerian's last experience-(dragging afternoon that it was...).

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Believe it or not, David Daniels was at one time (about 15 years ago) the best counter tenor around and who actually helped a lot of people accept the sound. He broke down a lot of barriers for the counter tenor. I suspect he will be remembered as one of the ground breaking counter tenors. He made that voice type much more mainstream. But I have heard clips and I know that he is no longer singing at the level he once was. I have heard that he is teaching at least some of the time. It is sad to see singers that I liked one by one fall from grace. It is like watching Gods fall and die.

I have to admit that I tend to prefer mezzos (females) doing these roles as trouser roles. But I try to keep an open mind. Sometimes it is nice to see a real man playing a man, but I think the females in drag usually have a richer and more impressive sound. Very few counter tenors seem to be able to color the voice which also means they do not express emotion as well.

Daniels was The Guy for a long time. It's not that I don't appreciate what he did, but it takes something more, like Dumaux's wonderful acting and movement quality, for a countertenor to keep me interested in the voice type. I'm not sure why, but I really liked a male soprano, David Korn -- a true soprano, not a countertenor -- who was in the Seattle Opera Young Artists Program a few years ago and who sang in the program's production of Britten's "The Turn of the Screw." (I remember that well, partly because in the Q&A after the program, someone in the audience asked a question of Dean Williamson, who conducted the performance, and Peter Kazaras, the program director who directed the opera, and Speight Jenkins jumped in an argued with each other (in a friendly manner), with Williamson standing there waiting for them to finish.)

In the case of Cesare, it's not even a matter of mezzo vs. countertenor: I prefer a bass in the role. (My hypothetical Marilyn Horne question is about voice quality if a part has to be in that range.) There's only one other major dark voice in the cast, and I really missed having Cesare as a bass.

Did I mention a great dislike of countertenors?

Yes, as someone who didn't grow up with opera and has never quite "gotten" them, that's very interesting to read. I wonder how widespread the feeling is among knowledgeable and longtime opera lovers.

As Birdsall wrote, while there were countertenors in the past, Daniels was the first major artist to make countertenors mainstream, and because he was an inspiration, there was finally critical mass. When I was growing up with opera, most of my exposure to countertenors was in oratorios or recitals.

Is there anyone here who started going to the opera during the rise of the countertenor, and who grew up on countertenors?

The Baroque is not at all my favorite era, and Giulio Cesare is about the fourth or fifth HD transmission I passed up this year for one reason or another, in this case because I didn't think I could handle 5 hours of Handel. But as it turned out this afternoon, I never turned off the radio.

That's a shame. I had mixed feelings about the production, but it moved and was full of vitality. It was worth consideration. It should be on PBS eventually, though.

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For me mezzos in the male roles have a heftier sound than most counter tenors.

As for not "getting" counter tenors, kfw, you are definitely not alone. Many opera lovers can't stand them. I am open to them, but I actually do prefer their roles cast with females.

Helene, I assume the Treigle recording is your favorite for Guilio Cesare then!

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Even though Treigle was weak in the performance I saw, he's still my favorite live Giulio Cesare. I only had the Sills/Treigle recording: it's an opera I never collected. blushing.gif

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I actually enjoy the Sills/Treigle recording even though it is cut and if I remember correctly some arias are out of order. I haven't listened to it in a long time, so correct me if I am wrong. But it was back when baroque opera was still not well researched.

I think it is the best recording of Sills. She is one singer I don't "get" normally. I don't like the sound of her voice usually and don't think she was vocally or dramatically spectacular judging by her recordings and videos. I guess it is a case where you had to be there. BUT in this Julius Cesar recording I feel she did her best work ever.

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I would say the best Guilio Cesare of them all was Janet Baker and her recording of the role still stands scrutiny too. For me the Baroque is the apex of the art of opera, though I know I'm in a minority with that view. As for counter tenors, they are singing the roles written for the castrati, so I suppose that is the nearest to the original sound we are likely to get.

I worship Andreas Scholl and consider his the most beautiful male voice in existence, but there are new CT's emerging all the time which is baroque paradise for me.

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I find all the studio recordings of Guilio Cesare fascinating. Janet Baker's account is very wonderful. But so is the Rene Jacobs recording with Jennifer Larmore for so many other reasons. Each one is so completely different and a product of its time, and we learn so much about the beautiful score by hearing it in different ways. So I find it hard to pick just one. I also have the Glyndebourne dvd which is entertaining and an updated production that I actually like. Danielle De Niese as Cleopatra is on her best behavior back then. I find her very mannered in Poppea and her solo CD. I wish there were time in life to play these things over and over and still have time to walk the dog, eat, etc. LOL

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The only countertenor I ever enjoyed live on the opera stage was NYCO regular David Walker, whose career never got the traction his contemporaries David Daniels' and Bejun Mehta's did. Walker's voice wasn't lavishly pretty, but it did have some actual colors in it and he was a wonderfully musical singer as well as terrific actor.

Handel himself never used countertenors in his operas. If he couldn't cast his castrato of choice, he would cast a female alto or soprano in the role instead. (And note that Handel usually relegated tenors and basses to secondary roles -- royal fathers, trusted retainers and the like. Heroes and heroines were sung by voices in the soprano to contralto range. It was the convention.) Our era's apparent squeamishness around gender and singing en travesti has led many an opera director to cast countertenors in male roles that were always taken by women in Handel's day -- Sesto in Giulio Cesare and Polinesso in Ariodante are but two examples. The role of Sesto was written for soprano Margherita Durastanti. Sesto is a boy -- a teen at most -- and it makes theatrical sense to put a woman in the role; think of Mozart's Cherubino. I never could wrap my head around the beefy, bearded Daniels as a teenage boy only just on the cusp of adulthood.

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Daniels has sung Cesare for so long that it hadn't occured to me that he would have started with Sesto. I remember a Horne vs. Ramey vocal slap down in which they both played generals, and I don't remember any issues with that, although there might be/have been if a male played one of the female roles, like a male soprano singing Cleopatra.

I know that switching from castrato to bass for the role of Cesare was a 20th century invention, but there are no castrati around, and I find countertenors mostly dull. On the other hand, when a bass can do runs and trill, that puts me at the edge of my seat, and the contrast between the highest and the lowest voices in a romantic relationship is a treat, considering how rare it is in general.

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Some of you may have heard the Vatican recordings by Alessandro Moreschi (the last castrato). I think someone mentioned him in a post above or in another thread. If you haven't, you might want to. Or maybe not! LOL It is a mixed bag.

I bought a cd of all his vatican recordings years ago and could never enjoy it. Not only is the recorded sound bad (due to being such old recordings at the beginning of recorded music, but he is also apparently not one of the best castrati that ever sang. To my ears he must be one of the castrati that was rejected by the opera houses.

Still it is worth listening to (you can google him and listen to him on YouTube for a free taste of his voice). To me if his overall sound is anything like the famous castrati that came before him, it does sound like a castrated male does sound like a young boy with more power to his voice (less white tones compared to young boys) and a lower register. So it hints at what the great castrati may have sounded like.....not really like women or counter tenors......almost like an in-between state of the two, in my opinion. It literally sounds like a boy who has developed his voice better than the average boy. But who knows if the great castrati sounded like Moreschi. We will probably never know.

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I saw the encore performance last night. WOW....I loved it (but I'm easy smile.png).

I like baroque generally, and am finding that I am liking baroque opera more and more. Unlike most here, I love countertenors because I so rarely get to hear them, and I love the fact that their voices are so different (I will leave the judgements of what's better or worse to others). A countertenor's texture is so different than a mezzo's -- vive la différence, I say.

I really enjoyed the campy, gooky quality of the direction....and more importantly, it seemed to me that the singers did too. They surely threw themselves into it whole-heartedly.

I thought she did a wonderful job with the dancing.

I was thunderstruck by not only Dessay's dancing, but generally the fluidity and grace with which she moved at all times in this heavily choreographed production. Does anyone know.....does she have a background in dancing? I think she must!

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Kathleen, your comments about Handel and countertenors is fascinating and enlightening--the idea that we use them partly out of squeamishness w/gender of course sheds a whole new (and disappointing) light on things. That said, I really thought Christophe Dumaux as Ptolomeo was fantastic!

Handel himself never used countertenors in his operas. If he couldn't cast his castrato of choice, he would cast a female alto or soprano in the role instead. (And note that Handel usually relegated tenors and basses to secondary roles -- royal fathers, trusted retainers and the like. Heroes and heroines were sung by voices in the soprano to contralto range. It was the convention.) Our era's apparent squeamishness around gender and singing en travesti has led many an opera director to cast countertenors in male roles that were always taken by women in Handel's day -- Sesto in Giulio Cesare and Polinesso in Ariodante are but two examples. The role of Sesto was written for soprano Margherita Durastanti. Sesto is a boy -- a teen at most -- and it makes theatrical sense to put a woman in the role; think of Mozart's Cherubino. I never could wrap my head around the beefy, bearded Daniels as a teenage boy only just on the cusp of adulthood.

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I saw the encore performance last night. WOW....I loved it (but I'm easy smile.png).

I like baroque generally, and am finding that I am liking baroque opera more and more. Unlike most here, I love countertenors because I so rarely get to hear them, and I love the fact that their voices are so different (I will leave the judgements of what's better or worse to others). A countertenor's texture is so different than a mezzo's -- vive la différence, I say.

I really enjoyed the campy, gooky quality of the direction....and more importantly, it seemed to me that the singers did too. They surely threw themselves into it whole-heartedly.

I thought she did a wonderful job with the dancing.

I was thunderstruck by not only Dessay's dancing, but generally the fluidity and grace with which she moved at all times in this heavily choreographed production. Does anyone know.....does she have a background in dancing? I think she must!

I have read that she wanted to be a ballet dancer originally but discovered she had a voice, so switched directions, but I have no idea how far she may have gotten in ballet studies....maybe it was even just a wish or a few classes in childhood. But it would make sense that she had some classes since you are right....she is usually pretty graceful. She has always been a very active performer willing to do cartwheels or anything physical while singing which is rare in a singer. Most are too worried about disrupting their vocal line. I think Caballe once said that Fiorenza Cossotto (singing Adalgisa to Caballe's Norma) shoved the on-stage kids toward Caballe and they ran to hug her which was not in the original blocking for the performance, and she was sure it was a direct attempt by Cossoto to upset her vocal line. I give that example to show you how rare it is for singers to want to do acrobatics while singing. So Dessay is unusual in that respect, although singers are doing more and more of that, because they are starting to be very fit and game for anything the director throws at them. There is ongoing debate whether this has caused a decline in voices or not.

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Kathleen, your comments about Handel and countertenors is fascinating and enlightening--the idea that we use them partly out of squeamishness w/gender of course sheds a whole new (and disappointing) light on things. That said, I really thought Christophe Dumaux as Ptolomeo was fantastic!

Handel himself never used countertenors in his operas. If he couldn't cast his castrato of choice, he would cast a female alto or soprano in the role instead. (And note that Handel usually relegated tenors and basses to secondary roles -- royal fathers, trusted retainers and the like. Heroes and heroines were sung by voices in the soprano to contralto range. It was the convention.) Our era's apparent squeamishness around gender and singing en travesti has led many an opera director to cast countertenors in male roles that were always taken by women in Handel's day -- Sesto in Giulio Cesare and Polinesso in Ariodante are but two examples. The role of Sesto was written for soprano Margherita Durastanti. Sesto is a boy -- a teen at most -- and it makes theatrical sense to put a woman in the role; think of Mozart's Cherubino. I never could wrap my head around the beefy, bearded Daniels as a teenage boy only just on the cusp of adulthood.

Well, I'm not much of a stickler for an overly-scrupulous "authenticity": if the best singer for a particular role happens to be a countertenor, then by all means the countertenor should sing it! It's only when "best" is assumed to mean "in possession of the right set of body parts" that I get grumpy.

And I do put my foot down when it comes to the repeat of the A section of a da capo aria: the repeat is an integral part of the form and is there for dramatic and musical reasons. Lopping it off to either save time or -- even worse -- to spare the audience to presumed tedium of having to hear it all over again is a crime against art.

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I regret not having been able to make it to this, and hope (fat chance!) that the Met will repeat it during their summer encores.

I actually remember quite well the Sills-Triegle production at City Opera, back in the 60s. I haven't heard the recording in ages, but recall vividly the visual splendor of the NYCO production and the unfamiliar (to me) wonder of the music. For some reason, the woman who sang Cornelia (a true contralto) sticks strongly in my memory, as does the Sextus.

Helene wrote:

Dumaux was a fabulous actor, and he even got me past my great dislike of countertenors. (My usual question when hearing one is, "Would I prefer to hear Marilyn Horne sing it?," and the answer is, invariably, "Yes.")
I have the identical reaction. However, with countertenors appearing more and more in recent years, I have begun to realize that there are actually a great number of countertenor "voices," some of which I like more than others. But no one approaches Horne at her best, even when she was obliged to wear a little beard and moustache, as I remember from several productions.

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