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Handel: Julius Caesar

Yvonne Kenny, Graham Pushee, Andrew Dalton, Elizabeth Campbell, Rosemary Gunn, Stephen Bennett
Australian Opera & Ballet Orchestra/Richard Hickox

EuroArts - DVD 2053599 Recorded live for TV at the Sydney Opera House, June 1994 [4:3; surround sound; 208 mins]

This notably successful Australian production of Giulio Cesare in Egitto is captured satisfactorily for worldwide home enjoyment.

Graham Pushee
, an admired Australian counter-tenor, is a suitably masculine Emperor in command and in adversity when he escapes from the sea (stylised 'sea horses' behind him in the waves) and delivers his ornate arias with impressive ease and confidence. Two more counter tenors are needed and take their parts commendably, even though Andrew Dalton's softer grained tones are not quite right for the villainous King Tolomeo.

Yvonne Kenny rivets attention with her authoritative vocal command and captivating presence, causing a frisson as Cleopatra bares all to take her famous milk bath. For Sesto (no. six of the family is often a key player in opera seria) we have fiery soprano Elizabeth Campbell. There is a general competence and confidence in the florid Handel style. The da capo repeats are varied, and helped by discreet ballet contributions, not overdone.

Richard Hickox keeps things moving and, to facilitate scene changes and make closer contact with the audience, the singers often come forward off the stage, beyond the orchestra (I first saw that successful acting-around-the-orchestra device in Weber's Oberon at Edinburgh). Anthony Baker's designs are eye catching and make satisfying backgrounds for Francisco Negrin's direction of the principals and Gregory Nash's choreography.

Handel Guilio Cesare in Egitto


The newly received, and far more lavishly staged, Barcelona version of Handel's Julius Caesar (July 2004) is not to be seriously compared with MacKerras's at Sydney welcomed above.

The title role is taken by Flavio Oliver, a Spanish counter-tenor who is here erratic in tuning, timing and tone (he dives down into a pseudo-baritone register). Nor is Elena de la Merced, the Cleopatra at the Grand Theatre of Licieu, any match for Yvonne Kenny. The distinctive contralto Ewa Podles, as the widow of Pompey, whose head she carries around throughout, is less convincing here than as an impressive Orfeo for Peter Maag.

On the plus side there is a very fetching crocodile - - The crocodile is the great mute star of this production directed by Herbert Wernicke- - !


© Peter Grahame Woolf