Not a Dull Moment in Handel’s Giulio Cesare at Komische Oper Berlin

12/09/2015

  Handel, Giulio Cesare in Egitto: Chorsolisten und Orchester der Komischen Oper Berlin/Konrad Junghänel (conductor), Komische Oper Berlin, 11.9.2015 (MC)

Handel-Giulio-Cesare-in-Egitto-©-Iko-Freese-drama-berlin.de

             Handel Giulio Cesare  in Egitto © Iko Freese drama berlin.de

Sung in Italian. Libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym to a libretto by Giacomo Francesco Bussani.

Cast:
Giulio Cesare: Dominik Köninger
Cleopatra: Sydney Mancasola
Cornelia: Ezgi Kutlu
Sesto Pompeo: Theresa Kronthaler
Tolomeo: Anna Bernacka
Achilla: Nikola Ivanov
Pompeo: Klaus-Richard Dunnbier
King Cleopatra: Philine Scholtyssek
King Tolmeao: Louis Lemme

Production:
Musical direction: Konrad Junghänel
Stage direction: Lydia Steier
Stage design: Katharina Schlipf
Costumes: Ursula Kudrna
Dramaturgy: Johanna Wall
Lighting: Diego Leetz
Chorus: David Cavelius

Attending the Komische Oper Berlin these days is almost guaranteed to be a fascinating evening and this lavish production of Handel’s Gulio Cesare in Egitto was no exception. Stage director Lydia Steier took the liberty of taking Handel’s setting of Gulio Cesare in Egypt around 48 BC forward to what seemed like a curious and heady mix of the era of revolutionary France and the Rocky Horror Show. At the work’s première in 1724 in London the castrato Francesco Bernardi, known as Senesino, took the title role so it came as a surprise that Steier had opted to use a baritone for the role not a counter-tenor.

Katharina Schlipf’s stage design employed several sets that were pulled noisily across the stage mainly featuring large, grubby rooms from a rundown mansion or palace complete with peeling paint and a huge hole in the roof. Occasionally adjacent parts of two rooms were shown simultaneously enabling the watching of two lots of action. With this hectic staging there was always something going on, even during set piece arias there would commonly be activity in the background which at times proved a distraction. It was hard to get the head around the production that was often serious and often humorous but there was certainly never a dull moment. Costume designer Ursula Kudrna had a debauched crowd of ridiculously dressed nobles and hangers-on that reminded me mainly of the time of the French revolution while the costumes of the often abused harem women of the Egyptian Royal court replicated Cleopatra’s gold pannier dress and jet black wig. The sexual maltreatment of the harem with Tolomeo, the biggest protagonist, seemed gratuitous and uncomfortable to watch and there were examples of extreme violence such as torture, including breaking fingers.

Energetic and entertaining in the title role German baritone Dominik Köninger kitted out in white with brown riding boots was very much the masculine hero, powerful and full of vitality. Excellent acting with good stage presence sadly his vocal rather lacked variety and tone colour, and wasn’t suited at all to baroque ornamentation. As Cleopatra, American soprano Sydney Mancasola was in excellent form both acting and vocally. As Caesar posed on the white horse, Mancasola in her haste to join him nearly fell off. I relished her secure, fluid, highly attractive vocal although her coloratura was a touch strained. According to her social media posting this evening’s performance was her international debut, her role debut as Cleopatra and her first ever performance of an opera by Handel, which makes her achievement in such a challenging role even more remarkable.

Stealing the show in the boy trouser role of Sesto Pompeo was German mezzo-soprano Theresa Kronthaler. Looking good in her blonde wig Sesto wore a pale mint coloured frock-coat with white vest (covered in blood for much of the time) and trousers. With such an attractive, creamily expressive vocal Kronthaler has a marvellous projection and her acting is top drawer too. A stunning performance from Anna Bernacka in the (leather) trouser role of Tolomeo must surely win her deserved accolades. I was totally engaged by Bernacka’s formidable portrayal and found myself hating Tolomeo’s pernicious behaviour rather like that of a pantomime villain. Bernacka’s jet black hair, purple frock coat with gold trim, brown leather jodhpurs and black boots made her stand out. Totally committed the dark toned, assured Polish mezzo-soprano was in secure voice providing excellent expression and heft.

Bulgarian baritone Nikola Ivanov played the bearded General Achill, carrying both a dagger and a curiously out of place handgun while smoking cigarettes. A fine actor Ivanov has a strong, expressive voice, good diction, although he struggled with the baroque ornamentation which required more fluidity. In excellent voice Turkish mezzo-soprano Ezgi Kutlu played the role of Cornelia Pompe the mother of Sesto with skill and conviction. Music direction was by Konrad Junghänel, an early music specialist, who directed a slower tempo than I wanted. Neverthless Junghänel’s Berlin ensemble played with unerring skill maintaining a high degree of concentration.

There are some spectacular individual performances in Handel’s Gulio Cesare in Egitto which make Lydia Steier’s captivating production one not to be missed.

Michael Cookson

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! This Year’s International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival at Buxton and Harrogate __________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Usher Hall 2019-2020 Orchestral Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2020 Ring Cycles __________________________________
  • NEW! Roman River 2019 Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Ex Cathedra’s 50th Anniversary Season in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Geneva Grand Théâtre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2019-20 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden __________________________________
  • NEW! Bregenz Festival 17 July – 18 August 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Musikfest Berlin 2019 from 30 August to 19 September __________________________________
  • NEW! 2019 BBC Proms 19 July – 14 September __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera House in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2019-2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB in 2019-2020 and Updates on their New London City Island Home __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music and Other Events at the Southbank Centre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Cleveland Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! CELLIST JOHANNES MOSER IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! CHORUS MASTER STEPHEN DOUGHTY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • REVIEWED! Ron Howard’s Pavarotti in Cinemas 13 July (Preview) and Nationwide (15 July) __________________________________
  • NEW! MULTI-FACETED MUSICIAN JOY LISNEY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Ballet Announces Winners of Emerging Dancer 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! CONDUCTOR THOMAS SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! In August Fulham Opera’s Most Ambitious Project to Date – Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM ANDRÉ PREVIN (1929-2019) __________________________________
  • NEW! CHRISTOPHE ROUSSET IN CONVERSATION WITH COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • CONDUCTOR ÁDÁM FISCHER IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • MAESTRO RICCARDO FRIZZA IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month