Review: Handel in Bollywood comes to the Met
In this March 26, 2013 photo provided by the Metropolitan Opera, Natalie Dessay as Cleopatra, right, and David Daniels as Julius Caesar, second from right, perform during a rehearsal of Handel's "Giulio Cesare." (AP Photo/ Metropolitan Opera, Marty Sohl)
NEW YORK (AP) — Like a Christmas pudding, David McVicar's take on Handel's "Giulio Cesare" is so stuffed full of treats and surprises that even if some are not to your taste, you're likely to enjoy what you find in the next slice.
It arrived at the Metropolitan Opera on Thursday night as the last new production of the 2012-13 season and proved a mostly buoyant affair, compromised only by some uneven singing in the lead roles.
This is the so-called "Bollywood" version that premiered at England's Glyndebourne Festival in 2005 and has since been seen at Chicago's Lyric Opera as well. McVicar cheerfully admits to playing fast and loose with any notions of historical accuracy or consistency. Instead he takes elements of ancient Rome and Egypt and mixes them with British colonialism, the flapper era of the 1920s and dance moves — amusingly choreographed by Andrew George — straight out of Indian movie musicals.
In this March 27, 2013 photo provided by the Metropolitan Opera, Natalie Dessay as Cleopatra, right, and David Daniels as Julius Caesar perform during a rehearsal of Handel's "Giulio Cesare." (AP Photo/ Metropolitan Opera, Marty Sohl)
Anachronisms abound, with servants wheeling in tea sets, blimps hovering over warships and a pistol shot to dispatch the villain (though all the dead come back to life in time for a happy ending).
It's all somehow weirdly appropriate to an opera written in 1724 that contains one of Handel's most varied scores and veers constantly from the farce of low comedy to the seriousness of high drama, as Caesar's romance with Cleopatra is set against military plots and counterplots.
In the title role, countertenor David Daniels has tremendous presence and sings much of his music with eloquence. But at this stage of his career, his middle register sounds underpowered, and rapid coloratura puts a strain on his breath control. This was especially noticeable in his opening arias. Soprano Natalie Dessay as Cleopatra also was slow to warm up, and seemed uncomfortable with her dance moves in the opening scenes. She was at her best in her more melancholy arias, like the haunting "Piangero, la sorte mia," though even there it was apparent that her top notes no longer come easily.