Or, to sound a bit more snooty, I saw Giulio Cesare at Lyric Opera tonight. It’s a long one. Starts at 6:30 and ends who knows when. I only made it through two acts, but a small part of me wanted to stay for the third. I didn’t because I would have gotten home really late and I really didn’t love the opera. Sometimes you get great ones, sometimes good ones and sometimes bad ones. I’d put this one in the good category.
I want to start off by saying that one of my favorite operas, Alcina, was also by Handel. I saw that years ago and still remember some arias, what the set looked like and the basic story. I guess I had very high expectations for this one because of Alcina. Giulio Cesare is a very different beast. First off, there were no tenors. But there were three counter tenors. I am not a musician or opera expert. I had thought that a counter tenor was to a tenor like a mezzo soprano was to a soprano. The counter tenor would be a bit lower than a tenor. I was completely wrong. A counter tenor is higher than a tenor. I have to say that I’m not a big fan of counter tenors. Well, maybe I would be if there were just one or two, but having three and all the women being mezzo sopranos (being lower than a soprano), made everyone sound like they were singing the same notes. The range was provided by two bass baritones. It was just weird having no tenors and no sopranos.
The other part that I didn’t like was that it was described as a bollywood version of Giulio Cesare. This was an accurate description, based on the couple of bollywood movies that I’ve seen. And I’m not saying that bollywood is bad, I actually like the high energy dancing of bollywood. What bugged me was that this was set in Egypt, “Bollywood” is Indian. I guess the director was trying to just differentiate the West (Rome) with the East (Egypt). But the Indian feel just seemed out of place to me. That and parts of the set also didn’t fit. There was a scene with Cleopatra (who was great, by the way) where she was wearing a “flapper” outfit that seemed both out of place and out of time.
As to the singing, it was fantastic. All the singers were great, especially Cleopatra. She easily had the most fun with the role. Cordelia was good as well, but she seemed to spend the entire opera lying on the floor singing “woe is me”-type songs. The male singers were all good, I just have to say that I wasn’t crazy about the counter tenor voices. Oh and the mezzo who played Cordelia’s son Sextus, was really good as well.
The sets were very good as usual. They made a lot of changes to show the differences between Rome and Egypt. There also were a number of dancers and actors on stage, who did not sing. That made things a little more interesting. And was necessary, because some of the arias were really long. One strange thing was that it didn’t appear that the supertitles were telling all the story. In the few years that I’ve gone to the opera, usually the words show the first time they are sung and then when they’re repeated, the supertitles don’t show them. In act I, I actually thought that the supertitle screen was broken because they were showing so very few words. But that just seemed to be how it was in this opera. So, I did feel like I was missing part of the story.
Anyway, overall it was good. I’m glad I saw it and it gave me a different perspective on how an opera could go. It was also my introduction to counter tenors which was interesting. Will I see it again? Probably not. Am I glad I went? Definitely.
A side note is that I have to get different seats next year. The people around me were talking and moving around a lot. So, I think it’s time for me to try to get some better seats next year.