This is an elegant opera performed with wit and verve creating a sparkling evening of entertainment.
English Touring Opera presents Handel’s Giulio Cesare with a superb orchestra conducted by Sergey Rybin, using instruments that would have been used in Handel’s day and in eighteenth century costumes that the composer would have recognised.
The result is a delight and was received with rapture by the audience at Cambridge Arts Theatre.
This is the tale of Julius Caesar in Egypt. His forces have defeated those of his Roman rival Pompey. In fact, it’s a double defeat for Pompey because not only is he beaten by his own countryman – he then gets beheaded by an Egyptian – Cleopatra’s evil brother Tolomeo. We see his bloody head brought onto the stage.
Yet this is not purely the story of a valiant Roman general and a wicked Egyptian prince – it centres on two women: Cleopatra, sung here in a bravura performance of acting and singing by Susanna Hurrell, and Pompey’s widow Cornelia, performed with soul by Carolyn Dobbin, who brings gravitas to her role as a tragic heroine.
While Cornelia seeks revenge and urges her young son, Sesto to avenge his father’s death, Cleopatra disguises herself as her own servant to alure Caesar – sung powerfully by counter tenor Francis Gush. Cleopatra must also overcome her brother Tolomeo’s plan to remove her from the throne and take control himself.
We see Tolomeo both as youth and king, played by Alexander Chance who has a touch of humour showing the character’s vulnerability and his ruthlessness.
All the performances here are stellar and there are some sublime duets, including one between Carolyn Dobbin as Cornelia and her son Sesto, performed excellently by Margo Arsane.
A cast of just seven, dressed in lavish costumes, fill the stage in a fast-moving show. The smaller roles are gems too. Bass, Edward Hawkins as Tolomeo’s henchman Achilla manages to evolve effortlessly from heartless villain to love-lorn suitor to betrayed servant.
Directed by James Conway, this is a fulfilling evening of impossibly beautiful singing and heart-warming acting.
English Touring Opera at Cambridge Arts Theatre presents Rossini’s Il Viaggio a Reims on Friday, April 14 and Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia on Saturday, April 15 and is then touring.
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