Monday, November 17, 2008

Lyric Opera Kansas City : Giulio Cesare

Baroque opera is a bit of a different beast. Long, almost semi-spoken recitatives often with the barest accompaniment really delineate most of the opera's action and plot, where as in later opera they serve to add commentary and color. To further confuse, arias are used in baroque opera like later recitatives, to flesh out the characters and comment on the action. The operas are also quite episodic and there is rarely a dramatic high point as in later opera.

Thus, the more casual opera goers reacted with a bit of confusion at the Lyric Opera's first baroque offering in recent memory, Handel's glorious "Giulio Cesare" (Julius Cesar).

Using the New York City opera sets from the celebrated 1960's Beverly Sills performance with wonderfully grand but not over the top costumes (some quite revealing), the opera flowed well despite the often static nature of the action. At about 2 1/2 hours of music, this production was heavily cut. Some members of the audience were a bit confused over the role of Cesar being sung by a countertenor as was the custom. "Cesar sounds like a screaming fairy", I heard one patron mumble at intermission. Sadly, people like that take up space in about every concert hall around the world and don't tell me they don't either.

All that aside, this was a fine production well sung and a delight to see. Ward Holmquist led the orchestra of non period instruments in a well paced, totally non fussy performance with just the right amount of embellishment. Special note has to go to Soprano Christine Brandes' portrayal of Cleopatra. Her arias were gorgeous and frequently met with bravas and extended accolades. Her "Se pietà" aria took one's breath away. The countertenors were also quite good. Listening to a countertenor can be trying for even the most ardent listener, but these gentlemen had a clear and bright voice, never descending into strained falsetto.

Kudos to the Lyric for doing such an expensive and somewhat risky production. When most smaller companies stick to the standards, the Lyric does not hesitate to do modern, lesser known and even premiere operas.

A break for the year and then in March we will have a continuation of favorites celebrating the opera company's 50th season, La Traviata.

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