Giulio Cesare (1724): George Frideric Handel

Handel: Giulio Cesare

(directed by David McVicar, Glyndebourne, 20 July 2018)

It’s always nerve-racking when you go to see something you love live for the first time. What if it doesn’t live up to expectations? What if one of the cast has a sore throat? What if, horror of horrors, the manager comes onstage to announce a substitution? But at the same time, how can you resist? My opera buddy H and I had decided that we would pay virtually anything to see the revival of David McVicar’s marvellous Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne, and our resolution was put to the test when the more affordable seats were snapped up within seconds after going on sale. However, our budget-stretching seats in row B were absolutely worth the cost. Many of the cast from the 2005 production returned, with Sarah Connolly triumphant in the title role, and we could admire every little detail. Coupled with a lavish picnic and a gang of equally excited friends (inevitably christened Team Giulio), it made for a perfect day out, and I can promise you that it did live up to all those months of anticipation.

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Tristan und Isolde: Richard Wagner (1865)

Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

★★★★

(Royal Opera House, London, 14 December 2014)

I ended up at Tristan by accident, if such a thing is possible. Shortly after I’d seen Poppea at the Barbican and Giulio Cesare on DVD, I was enthusing to my opera buddy about how marvellous Sarah Connolly was. She said that Connolly would be at the Royal Opera House this December. Would I like to go to see her? ‘Hell, yes!’ I said. Then my friend mentioned the catch. Connolly was singing in Wagner’s Tristan. Five hours of psychologically intense angst including a forty-minute love duet. In German.

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Giulio Cesare: George Frideric Handel (1724)

Handel: Giulio Cesare

(Glyndebourne, 2005, directed by Sir David McVicar, conducted by William Christie)

One thing’s for sure. Handel certainly didn’t imagine anything quite like this. With zeppelins hovering over the Alexandrian harbour in the final act and Bollywood-style dance routines thrown into the arias, this production is joyously exuberant and thoroughly addictive. It was the first time I’d watched or heard the opera and it was the perfect introduction: indeed, I ended up feeling quite jealous of the people who’d been able to see it in the flesh.

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L’Incoronazione di Poppea: Claudio Monteverdi (1643)

Sarah Connolly

(Barbican, Academy of Ancient Music with Robert Howarth, 4 October 2014)

★★★★

When a friend asked if I wanted to see Monteverdi’s Poppea at the Barbican on Saturday, I said yes immediately. Poppea is a landmark in the history of opera: the first to weave a story around historical characters rather than myths or saints. I’ve only seen one production so far: the version directed by William Christie, with Philippe Jaroussky as Nerone, Danielle de Niese as Poppea and Max Cencic as Ottone. I haven’t written about it yet because I’ve been biding my time until I felt I had a better understanding of it; and this semi-staged version at the Barbican was the perfect way to put the Jaroussky version into context. Its abiding legacy will be a couple of extremely strong performances which I can use as a benchmark in the future.

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