As the story begins, Caesar and his men land in Alexandria. He has put down a rebellion by his rival Pompey and chased him to Egypt, where Cleopatra rules in an uneasy power-sharing arrangement with her ruthless brother, Ptolemy. Thinking he can gain Caesar’s backing, Ptolemy presents the emperor with a gift: the severed head of Pompey. Caesar is shocked.
This creates an opportunity for Cleopatra to win the emperor’s favor and claim the throne for herself. The action follows two story lines: Cleopatra’s attempt to woo Caesar for strategic reasons, only to find herself romantically vulnerable, and the effort of Pompey’s widow and son, the majestic Cornelia and the earnest Sextus, to avenge him.
When we first meet Cleopatra, she mocks her brother in a brilliant aria, “Non disperar,” saying that while he is fated to lose the throne, he at least may find love. The aria is staged like a dance number from a Bollywood movie. Ms. Dessay does a nimbly choreographed routine with two female dancers who mimic each other’s moves, complete with arm thrusts and head swivels matched to the stabbing rhythms in the music. As a young woman, the petite Ms. Dessay studied to be a dancer and actress. She is in her element in these scenes, executing maneuvers with a droll comic look and loose physicality.
Ms. Dessay has had some vocal setbacks in recent years and a shaky run last season as Violetta in the Met’s production of Verdi’s “Traviata.” If she is still not at her best, she is mostly in good voice, tossing off coloratura passagework, singing with sparkle in the perky arias and with melting richness in the sad ones. Now and then she seems distracted by the task of singing. In the great aria of seduction “V’adoro pupille,” Cleopatra, pretending to be Lydia, a noblewoman who has been robbed of her birthright by Ptolemy, tries to enthrall Caesar with a serenade. Ms. Dessay mostly sang with plaintive beauty. But there was some audible effort in her breathing and caution in her delivery.
Overall, though, she gives a valiant and endearing performance. When she first presents herself to Caesar as the wronged “Lydia,” she is dressed as a flapper in mourning, all in black, with sunglasses, yet holding a cocktail for comfort.
Mr. Daniels, who played Caesar at the Met in 2007 for the last run of John Copley’s dull 1988 production of this opera, is again remarkable, singing with his full-bodied sound, emphatic delivery and technical command. He conveys the emperor’s vulnerability when he finds himself bewitched by Cleopatra or touched by the anguish of the suffering Cornelia. But when called for, Mr. Daniels can make fun of himself, as in a spirited aria when Caesar must rush from Cleopatra’s chambers to avoid the advancing forces of Ptolemy. As Mr. Daniels stops to dispatch bravura run after bravura run, Ms. Dessay’s frantic Cleopatra keeps trying to push him out the door to safety.
The whole cast is terrific. The French countertenor Christophe Dumaux steals every scene he is in as the calculating Ptolemy. His voice is bright, clear and strong. Tall, trim and athletic, he is a natural onstage. In one taunting aria, he executes a full body flip as easily as tossing off a trill.
The mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon brought a plush, warm voice and dignity to Cornelia. The mezzo-soprano Alice Coote is wonderful as Sextus. The character first appears looking like a British schoolboy in a gray suit with knickers. But Ms. Coote, singing with dusky tone and penetrating sound, conveys the challenge this young man faces in trying to avenge his father.
The hearty baritone Guido Loconsolo, in a notable Met debut, is a muscular and menacing Achillas, a general and a power-hungry adviser to Ptolemy. The countertenor Rachid Ben Abdeslam, also in a Met debut, brings vocal sheen and comic antics as the eunuch Nirenus, the confidant of Cleopatra and Ptolemy. And the baritone John Moore is a vocally robust Curius, a Roman tribune in a Scottish kilt. A kilt? Why not? In one scene Cleopatra appears in jodhpurs.
Mr. Bicket draws a lithe, lyrical and stylish performance of this great score from the Met orchestra, reduced in numbers and complemented by a Baroque continuo group. The violinist David Chan, a concertmaster in the orchestra, got into the act. During one of Mr. Daniels’s arias, Mr. Chan traded ornamented phrases with him while bounding about onstage in a costume, a fez on his head. That is the kind of thing a violinist is seldom prepared for at a conservatory.Continue reading the main story
3CD + DVD
6 Nov 2015
Audio sample & Tracklisting
|01||Bach: Cantata "Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen", BWV 51: No. 1, Aria "Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen" (Soprano) - Natalie Dessay|
|02||Bach: Cantata "Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen", BWV 51: No. 2, Recitative "Wir beten zu dem Tempel an" (Soprano) - Natalie Dessay|
|03||Bach: Cantata "Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen", BWV 51: No. 3, Aria "Höchster, mache deine Güte" (Soprano) - Emmanuelle Haïm/Natalie Dessay/Le Concert d`Astrée|
|04||Bach: Cantata "Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen", BWV 51: No. 4, Chorale, "Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren" - No. 5, Finale, "Alleluja!" (Soprano) - Natalie Dessay|
|05||Monteverdi: Madrigali guerrieri, et amorosi: Lamento della ninfa,SV 163 - Emmanuelle Haïm|
|06||Bach, JS: Magnificat in D Major, BWV 243: "Suscepit Israel" (Sopranos I & II, countertenor) - Emmanuelle Haïm|
|07||Handel: Cantata "Il delirio amoroso", HWV 99: No. 1, Aria, "Un pensiero voli in ciel" (Soprano) - Emmanuelle Haïm|
|08||Handel: Cantata "Il delirio amoroso", HWV 99: No. 2, Aria, "Per te lasciai la luce" (Soprano) - Emmanuelle Haïm|
|09||Handel: Cantata XX - Ahi, nelle sorte umane, HWV 179: "Ahi, nelle sorte umane" - Emmanuelle Haïm|
|10||Handel: Cantata XX - Ahi, nelle sorte umane, HWV 179: "Ma le speranze vane" - Emmanuelle Haïm|
|11||Handel: Cantata "Mi palpita il cor", HWV 132b: No. 2, Aria, "Ho tanti affanni in petto" (Soprano) - Emmanuelle Haïm|
|12||Handel: Dixit Dominus, HWV 232: "Tecum principium in die virtutis tuae" (Soprano I) - Emmanuelle Haïm|
|13||Handel: Dixit Dominus, HWV 232: "De torrente in via bibet" (Sopranos I & II, chorus) - Emmanuelle Haïm|
|14||Les Indes galantes : Les Sauvages - Danse du Calumet de la Paix et duo Forêts paisibles - Emmanuelle Haïm/Le Concert d`Astrée/Natalie Dessay/Stéphane Degout|
|01||Handel : Alcina : Act 1 "Tornami a vagheggiar" [Morgana] - William Christie|
|02||Handel : Alcina : Act 2 "Ama, sospira" [Morgana] - William Christie|
|03||Handel : Alcina : Act 3 "Credete al mio dolore" [Morgana] - William Christie|
|04||Il Trionfo del Tempo a del Disinganno, Oratorio in two parts HWV 46 a (1707), Part One: Aria : "Fido specchio" (Bellezza) - Natalie Dessay/Emmanuelle Haïm/Le Concert d`Astrée|
|05||Il Trionfo del Tempo a del Disinganno, Oratorio in two parts HWV 46 a (1707), Part One: Recit.: "Io che sono il Piacere" (Bellezza/Piacere) - Natalie Dessay/Emmanuelle Haïm/Le Concert d`Astrée|
|06||Il Trionfo del Tempo a del Disinganno, Oratorio in two parts HWV 46 a (1707), Part One: Aria: "Un pensiero nemico di pace" (Bellezza) - Natalie Dessay/Emmanuelle Haïm/Le Concert d`Astrée|
|07||Il Trionfo del Tempo a del Disinganno, Oratorio in two parts HWV 46 a (1707), Part Two: Aria: "Tu del ciel ministro eletto" (Bellezza) - Natalie Dessay/Emmanuelle Haïm/Le Concert d`Astrée|
|08||Handel: Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, HWV 72: No. 13, Aria, "Qui l'augel da pianta in pianta" (Aci) - Emmanuelle Haïm|
|09||Cleopatra - Arias from Giulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV 17: Atto secondo - Scene 2: V'adoro, pupille - Natalie Dessay/Le Concert d`Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm|
|10||Handel: Giulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV 17, Act 3 Scene 3: No. 35, Aria, Piangerò la sorte mia" (Cleopatra) - Natalie Dessay/Le Concert d`Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm|
|11||Cleopatra - Arias from Giulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV 17: Atto terzo - Scene 7: Da tempeste il legno infranto - Natalie Dessay/Le Concert d`Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm|
|01||Handel: Alcina, HWV 34, Act 3: "Credete al mio dolore" (Morgana) - Natalie Dessay|