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MET's Giulio Cesare


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#16 Mashinka

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Posted 29 April 2013 - 03:50 AM

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.

#17 Birdsall

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Posted 29 April 2013 - 04:15 AM

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

#18 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 29 April 2013 - 08:09 AM

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.

#19 Helene

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Posted 29 April 2013 - 08:56 AM

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.

#20 Birdsall

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Posted 29 April 2013 - 09:19 AM

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.

#21 SandyMcKean

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Posted 16 May 2013 - 09:22 AM

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

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!

#22 Ray

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Posted 16 May 2013 - 09:32 AM

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.



#23 Birdsall

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Posted 16 May 2013 - 09:40 AM

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

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.

#24 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 16 May 2013 - 10:09 AM

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.

#25 bart

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Posted 16 May 2013 - 10:11 AM

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.

#26 Birdsall

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Posted 16 May 2013 - 10:14 AM

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.



Yes! Yes! Yes!!!! LOVE YOUR COMMENT!!!!!!!

You are so right. I have heard performances that cut the da capo, and the entire opera became boring. But I have heard uncut performances that I dreaded (because of length), but I ended up loving, because it all makes sense when the da capo section is sung with embellishments, and it can actually be very, very, very exciting to hear the way the various singers onstage embellish their music.

Let me kiss your feet for saying that! LOL

#27 SandyMcKean

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Posted 17 May 2013 - 07:37 PM

I posited a question a few posts up thread as to whether or not Natalie Dessay had any background in dance. I don't have any details, but I did find the following in Wikipedia (this statement was repeated in the NY Times review):

"As a young woman, the petite Ms. Dessay studied to be a dancer and actress."

#28 Helene

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Posted 19 May 2013 - 10:01 AM

Dessay is featured in the documentary "Becoming Traviata," reviewed in the NYT a few days ago:

http://movies.nytime...eziat.html?_r=0

It may address at least some of her physical approach to roles.

#29 dirac

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Posted 20 May 2013 - 03:19 PM

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.

But who knows if the great castrati sounded like Moreschi. We will probably never know.


Thanks, Birdsall. I think we can say fairly definitely that the great castrati didn't sound like Moreschi, who was past his prime and was never a great name. The famous names combined the physical and vocal firepower of a man with the flexibility and higher range of a woman. It must have been quite something and it's unlikely that countertenors even begin to approach it - but then, like Helene, I find them dull.


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