Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Cardiff Opera, Cornerstone

January 26, 2019 by

Cardiff has established itself as a beacon for operatic talent. Our world-class Welsh National Opera has reached new heights over the decades and a mass of talent has flourished from both the Royal Welsh and Cardiff University. Through this now emerges new groups tackling bold material.

In this inaugural production by Cardiff Opera takes on a titan of Opera seria and one of the finest works of the 18th century. In Handel’s take on Cesare’s exploits in Egypt (though factual), elements of truth are blurred slightly here tie into the reign of Cleopatra. Whilst Mark Antony is the more famous romantic figure for Cleopatra, here we get an absorbing tale of warfare, deception and romance. This opera is an avalanche of arias and a stunning display of grandeur with only  a small ensemble of singers and chorus (this version omitted the latter) used to a great effect. Although the vast amount of solos might make you crave the odd chorus number and duets, there is plenty of time to get to know these characters and their contra sings moods. There are many aria highlights though Cesare and Cleopatra get the best pieces filled with grace, ardour, fury and humility.

Cardiff Opera have presented a semi-staged version here, with costumes and no set. One understands these considerations when its your first show, though there is much talent to show off here. Like the singers of Handel’s era, we get a marvellous array of student singers who make the role their own. Clover Kayne as Tolomeo (Ptolemy) gives us fleeting moments of cheeky humour as the villains King of Egypt, with some delicious songs on his naughty and often horrid actions. Aaron Holmes as Achilla was another bold singer, filled with gusto as the deceiving commander of the Egyptian forces. Rachel Morás is a splendid Caesar filled with pomp and grandeur, making there arias her own, often rousing. Joelene Griffith make for a glorious Cleopatra, making the often moving arias all the more sweeter and heavenly. Even the aria in which she mocks her brother Tolomeo, is rude and biting, dripping with acid.

Even with some illness causing replacements, the supporting cast are also wonderful. The wonder of this opera is that each of the characters gets arias. Though having to absorb them all could become overwhelming, the subtly and sincerity of the music always washes away any doubts. William Stevens conducted proceedings with commitment and determination. Though there were no recorders and other period instruments, the harpsichord setting on a keyboard seemed to work.

A valiant effort for a new opera group.

Cardiff Opera return Autumn 2019 with Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail.

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