HANDEL Giulio Cesare Minkowski

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G. F. HANDEL

Giulio Cesare
Mijanovic · Kozená · von Otter
Hellekant · Mehta · Ewing
Bertin · Ankaoua
Les Musiciens du Louvre
Marc Minkowski
Int. Release 02 Jun. 2003
3 CDs / Download
0289 474 2102 3 3 CDs DDD AH3
ARCHIV Produktion


トラック・リスト

CD 1: Handel: Giulio Cesare

George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759)
Giulio Cesare in Egitto HWV 17

Marc Minkowski, Les Musiciens du Louvre

Atto primo

Magdalena Kozená, Anne Sofie von Otter, Bejun Mehta, Pascal Bertin, Jean-Michel Ankaoua, Alan Ewing, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Marijana Mijanovic, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Marijana Mijanovic, Jean-Michel Ankaoua, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Marijana Mijanovic, Jean-Michel Ankaoua, Charlotte Hellekant, Anne Sofie von Otter, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Marijana Mijanovic, Anne Sofie von Otter, Charlotte Hellekant, Jean-Michel Ankaoua, Alan Ewing, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Marijana Mijanovic, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Anne Sofie von Otter, Charlotte Hellekant, Jean-Michel Ankaoua, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Charlotte Hellekant, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Anne Sofie von Otter, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Anne Sofie von Otter, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Magdalena Kozená, Pascal Bertin, Bejun Mehta, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Magdalena Kozená, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Bejun Mehta, Alan Ewing, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Bejun Mehta, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Marijana Mijanovic, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Magdalena Kozená, Marijana Mijanovic, Jean-Michel Ankaoua, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Marijana Mijanovic, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Magdalena Kozená, Pascal Bertin, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Magdalena Kozená, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Charlotte Hellekant, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Charlotte Hellekant, Magdalena Kozená, Anne Sofie von Otter, Pascal Bertin, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Anne Sofie von Otter, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Marijana Mijanovic, Bejun Mehta, Alan Ewing, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Marijana Mijanovic, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Charlotte Hellekant, Anne Sofie von Otter, Bejun Mehta, Alan Ewing, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Charlotte Hellekant, Anne Sofie von Otter, Alan Ewing, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Alan Ewing, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

再生時間合計 1:15:55

CD 2: Handel: Giulio Cesare

George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759)
Giulio Cesare in Egitto HWV 17

Atto primo

Charlotte Hellekant, Anne Sofie von Otter, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Charlotte Hellekant, Anne Sofie von Otter, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Atto secondo

Magdalena Kozená, Pascal Bertin, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Marijana Mijanovic, Pascal Bertin, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Marijana Mijanovic, Pascal Bertin, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Marijana Mijanovic, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Magdalena Kozená, Marijana Mijanovic, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Marijana Mijanovic, Pascal Bertin, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Marijana Mijanovic, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Charlotte Hellekant, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Charlotte Hellekant, Alan Ewing, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Charlotte Hellekant, Bejun Mehta, Alan Ewing, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Alan Ewing, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Charlotte Hellekant, Bejun Mehta, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Bejun Mehta, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Charlotte Hellekant, Anne Sofie von Otter, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Charlotte Hellekant, Anne Sofie von Otter, Pascal Bertin, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Charlotte Hellekant, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Anne Sofie von Otter, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Anne Sofie von Otter, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Magdalena Kozená, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Magdalena Kozená, Marijana Mijanovic, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Magdalena Kozená, Marijana Mijanovic, Jean-Michel Ankaoua, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Marijana Mijanovic, Charlotte Hellekant, Magdalena Kozená, Anne Sofie von Otter, Bejun Mehta, Pascal Bertin, Alan Ewing, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski, Jean-Michel Ankaoua

Magdalena Kozená, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Charlotte Hellekant, Bejun Mehta, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Charlotte Hellekant, Anne Sofie von Otter, Bejun Mehta, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Charlotte Hellekant, Anne Sofie von Otter, Bejun Mehta, Alan Ewing, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Charlotte Hellekant, Anne Sofie von Otter, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Anne Sofie von Otter, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

再生時間合計 1:20:21

CD 3: Handel: Giulio Cesare

George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759)
Giulio Cesare in Egitto HWV 17

Atto terzo

Alan Ewing, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Alan Ewing, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Magdalena Kozená, Bejun Mehta, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Bejun Mehta, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Magdalena Kozená, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Magdalena Kozená, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Marijana Mijanovic, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Anne Sofie von Otter, Marijana Mijanovic, Pascal Bertin, Alan Ewing, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Marijana Mijanovic, Anne Sofie von Otter, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Marijana Mijanovic, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Anne Sofie von Otter, Pascal Bertin, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Anne Sofie von Otter, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Magdalena Kozená, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Magdalena Kozená, Marijana Mijanovic, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Magdalena Kozená, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Charlotte Hellekant, Bejun Mehta, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Charlotte Hellekant, Magdalena Kozená, Bejun Mehta, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Charlotte Hellekant, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

20.
0:00
2:40

Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Charlotte Hellekant, Magdalena Kozená, Marijana Mijanovic, Anne Sofie von Otter, Pascal Bertin, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Magdalena Kozená, Marijana Mijanovic, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Marijana Mijanovic, Guido Larisch, Michel Maldonado, Pascal Monteilhet, Jory Vinikour, Mirella Giardelli

Charlotte Hellekant, Magdalena Kozená, Marijana Mijanovic, Anne Sofie von Otter, Pascal Bertin, Bejun Mehta, Alan Ewing, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski, Jean-Michel Ankaoua

再生時間合計 1:03:04

Marc Minkowski's terrific new recording of Handel's "Giulio Cesare" . . . we're really in a mezzo golden age just now . . . They offer artistic solace but spiritual solace, too. They sing to the depths of our souls.

It is Magdalena Kozena as the Egyptian queen that lifts this set into the league of a classic. Her bright mezzo has no problems with the compass or range of Cleopatra¿s arias, teasing and witty in the seductive numbers, rich-voiced, noble and moving in her two astonishing laments.

. . . a new live recording under Marc Minkowski achieves a fine balance between buoyancy and a genuine sense of theatre. The voices too have been carefully chosen, agility and an expressive range being evident prerequisites . . . Magdalena Kozená impresses as Cleopatra . . . she is every ounce the vocal virtuoso.

. . . in this new recording Magdalená Kozená properly steals the show . . . the rest of the cast are almost a match for Kozená . . . Anne Sofie von Otter is both fiery and subtle. Minkowski's conducting is excitingly theatrical yet never overdriven.

Marc Minkowski's handling of the score, with period instruments, is gloriously wilful: thrillingly dramatic in revenge arias, poignantly moving in tragic ones . . . The results are constantly enthralling, occasionally, as at Kozená's aria 'Piangerò', heart-stopping.

Even more impressive though is Magdalena Kozená's Cleopatra. She too has a terrific rhythmic élan, and her clear, ringing tones are often thrilling.

Recitatives are marvellously alive; and accompaniments often have that much more character and point than on the rival set, with stronger, more imaginative shaping of the continuo lines. The live recorded sound is firstrate . . . But for its allround success, and above all for Kozená's glorious Cleopatra, Minkowski's"'Giulio Cesare" is now the one to have.

Minkowski . . . brings to his singers a propulsive sense of drama. The recitatives are full of action and feeling, and the solos are unusually expressive in milking their poetic and musical imagery. Those qualities are particularly to be heard in the three female roles . . . Kozená brings a mezzo fullness to her part, for a characterization of sensuality and strength . . . Von Otter turns what is usually a lesser personality in the cast into a very strong and important one . . .

Marc Minkowski and his company of red-blooded musicians kick emotional sterility and boredom into the long grass with the first few bars of the overture to "Giulio Cesare", and do everything thereafter to project the vivid expression and dramatic contrasts built in to one of the greatest of all 18th-century serious operas . . . Full price this may be, but it's worth every penny.

Marc Minkowski provides a strong challenge, with a performance that is strongly cast and which certainly gains in drama and sense of continuity from being recorded live . . . . both Magdalena Ko¿ená and Charlotte Hellekant offer admirable performances . . . clear and brightly sung ¿ and her ornaments in the da capo here ['V'adoro, pupille'] truly add fire and force. I liked her precise, rather knowing singing of 'Non disperar' . . . and there is real nobility and feeling for the expressive character of Handel's line in 'Se pietà' . . . Hellekant is a firm and clear singer who shapes the lines with considerable feeling . . . Anne Sofie von Otter is a delight as Sesto, a young man's role (Pompey and Cornelia's son) . . . It is sung with much poise and feeling. Caesar is sung by Marijana Mijanovic, possessor of a strong and well-defined mezzo . . . 'Al lampo dell'armi' in Act 2 is carried off with brilliance and vigour, and the amorous 'Se in fiorito' a little earlier is charmingly sung . . . Bejun Mehta's countertenor, a light, well-focused . . . voice with no hint of hoot, works well for Tolemeo's music, which he phrases with a natural feeling for line. A forceful and energetic Achillas is provided by Alan Ewing . . . the theatrical vitality of the Minkowski perhaps secures it first place. It's certainly a version of this fine opera that any Handelian will want to hear.

It's a lovely lyric mezzo-soprano, reaching from a firm chest voice . . . solid yet not hooty, up to a shining top.

Marc Minkowski leads a standard-setting "Giulio Cesare" replete with majesty, exuberant virtuosity and stylish playing.

Kozená bravely hurls her voice at the high-lying recitatives, and the unfamiliar territory brings out alluring colors and emphases, adding to her slightly offbeat interpretation of this complex heroine.

As it happens, the dramatic balance of power remains convincing in the new set, for Magdalena Kozená . . . establishes the character as far more than just a pretty face. This is one of the finest performances I have heard from this superb mezzo, who sounds here like a light but firm-lined and warm-toned soprano. Meltingly lovely in such passages as the extraordinarily imaginative Parnassus scene, "V'adoro, pupille" and in the plangently grieving "Piangerò la sorte mia" at other turns she illuminates the Egyptian queen's infinite variety with some deliberately strident fining-down of tone and bending of intonation to make it clear that this is someone you would not wish to be on the wrong side of . . . Here Kozená's exquisite phrasing, perfectly drawn line, and use of vibrato for expressive purposes come close to perfection, while the impulsive flair-up in the central section is electrifying in its impact.

Equally impressive are Anne Sofie von Otter as Sesto (but one would expect nothing less from her) . . . Magdalena Kozená adds further accolades to this splendid cast, impressing with everything.

Kozená is already an experienced Handelian; she brings a warm mezzo-ish tone, but with a glinting soprano-ish edge¿to the Egyptian queen¿s sequence of beguiling arias. . . . This is Handel singing of the highest order that no Handelian ¿ will want to miss. . . . the theatrical verve and dash he [Minkowski] brings to the bravura numbers sets the ears a-tingling.

There are fine things in Minkowski's "Giulio Cesare" that make me suspect he could have given us the performance we have been waiting for . . . Best of all, Minkowski's sense of momentum and timing within arias is impeccable: he does not allow the middle sections of arias to obstruct the music's flow and rhetoric, and his timing of the da capo's return is always spot on. Alan Ewing's thunderous 'Tu sei il cor' is an example of how Minkowski's strongest attributes can work brillantly: it is thrilling . . . When this talent works as it does here, the impact is fabulous. At the other end of the expressive spectrum Minkowski conjures the full eroticism and tender softness of Cleopatra's illusion of Mount Parnassus, including 'V'adoro, pupille', during which the textural and spatial distinction between pit orchestra and band of Parnassus musicians comes across clearly, with beautifully controlled accompaniment, harp fully to the fore.

Das französische Album spiegelt in besonderer Weise Kozenás Vielseitigkeit wider.

Händels "Giulio Cesare": ein Sängerfest mit vier Primadonnen. Marjana Mijanovic als Giulio Cesare, Magdalena Kozená als verführerische Cleopatra, Anne Sofie von Otter als beherzter Sesto und Charlotte Hellekant als Cornelia sorgen unter Marc Minkowski für ein dramatisches Wechselbad der Affektlagen.

Marc Minkowski, für Barockmusik einer der intensivsten Streiter, hat mit seinen Musiciens du Louvre eine zündende, von großer Kraft und Energie getragene Neu-Interpretation vorgelegt, an der einige der schönsten jungen Stimmen Anteil nehmen: Magdalena Kozená und Anne Sofie von Otter führten bei der konzertanten Aufführung im Wiener Konzerthaus ein gutes Ensemble an. Mitreißender, in ihrer psychologischen Durchdringung glaubwürdiger ist diese Oper wohl noch nie auf Tonträgern vorgelegt worden.

Minkowskis besondere Begabung, Musik des vorklassischen Repertoires durch höchst vitale, kontrastreiche Interpretationen zu beleben, ist auch auf seiner jüngsten Einspielung für die Archiv Produktion der Deutschen Grammophon noch herauszuhören: Händels "Giulio Cesare" gerät unter seiner Leitung zu einem spannenden Wechselspiel aus plastisch ausmusizierten Rezitativen und emotionsgeladenen Arien. Die Musiciens du Louvre spielen farbkräftig, mit viel Wärme in den getragenen Passagen sowie fein pointierten Akzenten in dramatischen Aufwallungen... Eine ganz erstaunliche Wandlungsfähigkeit stellt Magdalena Kozená unter Beweis, die sich vom kecken Sesto zu einer ebenso selbstbewusst wie hingebungsvoll agierenden Cleopatra entwickelt hat. Ihr leidenschaftlicher, geschmackvoll gestalteter Vortrag, die sichere Artikulation und die beherzt angegangenen Koloraturen verleihen der Aufnahme einen besonderen Reiz.

Hier wird lustvoll geliebt und gehasst, gemordet und intrigiert! Marc Minkowski bringt das in seiner Einspielung des Stückes musikalisch mitreißend zum Ausdruck. Die Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble spielen so frisch und lebendig, dass man ihnen selbst ohne die Sänger stundenlang zuhören könnte. Minkowski hat die Oper bestens mit einer Riege gediegener Mezzosopranistinnen besetzt. Marijana Mijanovic singt dank eines herben, geraden Timbres einen überzeugenden Cesare . . . Charlotte Hellekant und Anne Sofie von Otter geben ein ausdrucksvoll singendes Mutter-Sohn-Paar. Herrlich fies singt Countertenor Bejun Mehta den Tolomeo, Alan Ewing schleimt als Achilla hörbar intrigant bis zum Tod.

Über Anne Sofie von Otters Künste muss man nicht viele Worte verlieren: In ihrer Darstellung des rachsüchtigen Pompeius-Sohnes Sesto gibt es keinen schwachen Moment. Wie immer gelingt es ihr, Aussageabsicht und stimmliche Bewältigung zu einer idealen Einheit zu führen. Mitreißender kann man diese Partie wohl kaum gestalten.

Die packend-dramatischen Seiten des "Giulio Cesare" gestaltet Marc Minkowski mit energischem Zugriff und artikulatorischem Biss... Auf der anderen Seite erzielt der Dirigent mit einer solchen Besetzung in gemäßigten und ruhigen Arien einen blühenden symphonischen Klang, der der Majestät des Stückes durchaus angemessen scheint... Überragend... Anne Sofie von Otter als Sesto...

Der Händel-Himmel auf Erden ... Minkowski ... hat den richtigen Händel-Drive raus: lustvoll in die Extreme getriebene Tempi, ein trockener, wie auf Sprungfedern wippender Sound, plastisch ausformulierte Rezitative, knatternde Bläser, wo Bläser knattern soll ..., silbrige Streicherfäden, wo es gilt, Tränen zu trocknen und Trost zu spenden.

Veni, vidi, vici... Si le chef a progressé depuis ses premiers opus, il s'est surtout laissé le temps, ici, de réunir son casting rêvé (des valeurs confirmées comme Von Otter et Kozená, des révélations comme Mijanovic et Mehta), qu'il a testé et entraîné à la scène. Et les sensationnelles impressions produites l'an passé au Palais Garnier se devaient d'être réitérées au disque... Avec Minkowski, c'est une respiration permanente, des brassées de théâtre en musique, un rythme haletant qui ne se relâche jamais: derrière chaque mesure, le chef pousse le drame, rend suffocantes les conventions de l'opera seria. Quitte à laisser surgir ses travers habituels: préférer l'énergie à la couleur, le dionysiaque à l'apollien, et alourdier la tornade orchestrale... Si c'était pour Minkowski que vous vouliez ce "César", c'est pour Marijana Mijanovic, tenante du rôle-titre, que vous ne le lâcherez plus: authentique contralto avec cette chair dans le timbre, autorité de l'accent, précision dans la vocalise, carrure guerrière et flambante du personnage. Un vrai César d'opéra, d'une totale authenticité musicale. Kozená, elle, chante une Cléopâtre, reine égyptienne égarée chez Bach mais dont les faiblesses faisaient le prix même. Ici, elle est une Cléopâtre mezzo, et immense voix d'opéra: de l'or et de la lumière, des furies, des murmures et une mélancolie d'où s'élève le plus beau «Se Pieta» jamais entendu. Ainsi va l'ensemble de la distribution, caractérisée par des prouesses vocales grandioses, toujours au service du drame...

Minkowski a réussi le tour de force de réunir quatre mezzos, y compris pour le rôle de Cléopâtre que l'on confie généralement à une soprano, sans que jamais l'on confonde les timbres ni les personnalités. La jeune Marijana Mijanovic, découverte au Festival d'Aix dans "Le Retour d'Ulysse" de Monteverdi, est un César au timbre masculin et à l'humeur vindicative, Charlotte Hellekant une Cornelia à la sensualité envahissante, Anne Sofie von Otter un Sesto à la fiévreuse détermination, et Magdalena Kozená une Cléopâtre subtilement ambigue.

Amoureux de voix sensuelles, il s'est offert quatre mezzos, dont ses stars Magdalena Kozená (Cleopatra), Anne Sofie von Otter (Sesto) pour un «Cara Speme» définitif, et Marijana Mijanovic dans le rôle-titre, qu'elle incarne avec un cinglant tempérament guerrier. Avec le Ptolemeo du contre-ténor Bejun Mehta . . . la fête tourne à l'orgie, même si la mélancolie rôde à chaque détour. La nouvelle référence?

. . . Marijana Mijanovic offre à son Jules César une belle voix androgyne, avec de vrais graves et d'excellentes vocalises . . . Promouvoir Ko¿ená en Cléopâtre, après lui avoir fait chanter Sesto, était une excellente idée. La merveilleuse mezzo tchèque a tout ce qui faut pour relever ce défi, non seulement les vocalises et l'aigu parfois nécessaires, mais aussi un vrai tempérament artistique, indispensable pour rendre compte de toutes les facettes de ce personnage complexe, et une chaleur de timbre rêvée, susceptible de conférer davantage d'érotisme à ce rôle qu'un soprano habituel . . . le chant est magnifique . . . Ko¿ená est certainement la meilleure Cléopâtre de la discographie . . . Cet enregistrement . . . est excellent . . .

Marc Minkowski et Haendel, c'est un doublé gagnant, à la scène et au disque. Aujourd'hui, c'est avec son "Jules César" qu'il faut compter. Grâce à l'enregistrement sur le vif et à ses prises de risque, les micros ont su capter la théâtralité de sa direction, sa pulsation, son crépitement. Prise de risque encore avec l'attribution du rôle-titre à la jeune Croate Marijana Mijanovic, César frémissant, qui s'identifie au souverain avec une autorité peu commune. Le reste est à l'avenant, grâce à la perfection d'Anne Sofie von Otter, à la sensualité de Magdalena Kozená, au mordant de Bejun Mehta: quelle affiche!

El director francés ha escogido un elenco de cantantes espectacular, sin fisuras. ... todos sin excepción están espléndidos componiendo un reparto de auténtico lujo en el que encontrarán un buen número de sorpresas. ... Con Anne Sofie von Otter, sin embargo, no hay sorpresas que valgan, y su actuación, rayana en la perfección, responde plenamente a lo que de ella se puede esperar. Su intervensión en "Cara speme" es marca de casa. Magdalena Kozená perfila una Cleopatra llena de atractivos. Su voz, muy lírica, dúctil y de bello timbre, es perfecta para abordar este exigente y comprometido papel. Su lectura de la famosa "V'adoro, pupille" es la mejor que yo he oído en mucho tiempo de esta inolvidable aria, plena de sentimiento, realmente conmovedora. ... Su sonido [de Les Musiciens du Louvre], su infinita capacidad para la gradación dinámica y su envidiable equilibrio han sido ya suficientemente alabados. Otro tanto ocurre con la labor directorial de Marc Minkowski que, con este "Giulio Cesare", firma la que es, junto a su estratosférica versión de "Ariodante", su mejor grabación dedicada a Haendel. En este referencial registro convergen pasión, dramatismo, refinamiento, sensualidad ...

Con un sonido espléndido que pone de manifiesto el poderío tímbrico y colorístico con el que Minkowski siempre intenta subrayar sus lecturas, este triple compacto espléndidamente presentado ... se erige en una interpretación modélica ... con unos Musiciens du Louvre con instrumentos originales de proyección de sonido perfecto, con virtuosos en cada familia y unos metales de absoluta envidia ... La producción técnica merece un aplauso, ya que todas y cada una de las secciones de la orquesta tienen voz propia, manteniéndose en ideal equilibrio con los planos sonoros de los solistas y del coro. ... una luminaria consagrada como es el Sesto de Anne Sofie von Otter y una apuesta mediática como Magdalena Kozená ... La Cleopatra de Magdalena Kozená es una delicia más que nada por el carácter que le imprime a su personaje, femenino al cien por cien, cantando una sufriente y muy comunicativa "Píangeró la sorte mia" con agudos bellísimos. ... Una tarea realmente titánica llevada a cabo con valentía, medios y fe en el estilo: Minkowski no sólo demuestra su sapiencia artística, sino un respeto y una admiración tangibles por el compositor y su obra en esta versión que podría convertirse en decisiva.

. . . Marc Minkowski es el más idóneo en los últimos tiempos para elevar Haendel a las más altas cumbres . . . una versión de campanillas de las más sobresaliente ópera del compositor. . . . La dirección de Minkowski es incandescente, plena de vitalidad y energía, a la vez la música fluye y respira, y el pulso dramático es constante en toda la representación. . . . Magdalena Kozená . . . plasma una reina de Egipto impecable, espléndida en el canto . . . desmelenada en la coloratura de "Non disperar". . . . una interpretación exultante en todos los aspectos de una ópera genial. Pocas veces se puede afirmar tan rotundo.

Como es habitual en Archiv, la versión está interpretada con instrumentos originales, y en esta ocasión se ha elegido un elenco sorprendentemente joven a las órdenes de Minkowski, un gran experto en barroco francés. Altamente recomendable.
    Background information Giulio Cesare

Two concerts in Vienna and a few quick patching sessions - that's all that was needed for the present live recording. For Marc Minkowski, "it's above all a question of attitude, especially for opera. I have very mixed feelings about recording. Or, to be frank, I hate recordings: they place me under a terrible strain. In short, I prefer not to think about it. What I like about live recordings is the possibility of achieving a powerful result with a real sense of continuity and dramaturgical structure. A singer can't sing an aria about despair or love at eight or nine in the evening, during the performance, in the same way that they would in the recording studio at two in the afternoon, knowing that they have time to make any necessary corrections." Marijana Mijanovic immediately accepted the validity of this outlook: "It's more risky, perhaps less perfect, but so natural and - alive!"

First, there was all the work involved in staging the opera both in Amsterdam and Paris, followed by a concert tour. "I'm not superstitious," insists Marc Minkowski, "but I have to say that I've rarely encountered so many difficulties as I did with Giulio Cesare. I was never able to begin a run of performances without running into problems of one sort or another. And this is the opera that I've conducted most often - at least as often as Rameau's Platée. With Platée, however, I've given some thirty performances over a ten-year period, whereas with Giulio Cesare it was thirty times in a year. And in Vienna we were on a knife-edge. It only needed a singer to fall ill on these two evenings and we'd have been finished. We were very lucky, which wasn't the case the previous year. We've been planning this recording for five years. I started with some of Handel's lesser known operas, before turning to works like Ariodante. In the case of Giulio Cesare, my ideas on casting have developed over the years. An initial project started to take shape, but after several crises we were unable to reach an agreement. But I knew that we'd do it one day. And Deutsche Grammophon had the magnanimity to accept my proposal once the project was ready with the singers of my dreams. In this way a recording came into being that almost wasn't made at all."

Caesar ...
"You have to accept that Giulio Cesare is a very long opera," Marc Minkowski points out, "but it's not simply a succession of arias. You really must have a sense of a single long-breathed paragraph and know that each aria is going somewhere and is part of the overall design. If we were able to hold the audience's attention for four hours in the concert hall, without any cuts, it is because Handel knew what he was doing: his opera is a very great classical tragedy, certainly not what too many interpretations turn it into - a burlesque work. There are merely smiles in Giulio Cesare. Of course, it's very Baroque - but there are already elements of Romanticism in it." Magdalena Kožená confirms this: "Take the aria 'Se pietà' in the second act, where the long notes are an example of bel canto avant la lettre. And the duet for Caesar and Cleopatra is just like chamber music."

The opera has a long history of interpretation, with the title-role being allotted either to an alto or a countertenor. So which voices should be preferred here? "I have to say that I'm fairly well placed to answer this question," replies Marc Minkowski, "as I've tried everything, from giving the role of Caesar to a countertenor to the mistake of casting Ptolemy as a woman. A countertenor can sing parts of Caesar's role, but even with the greatest interpreters, this type of voice doesn't suggest the bravura, masculinity, and sense of androgyny needed here."

It is therefore a very young singer, Marijana Mijanovic, who sings the huge role of Julius Caesar: "Marc always spoke to us about her in the most flattering terms," says Anne Sofie von Otter. "She sang some of the performances at the Paris Opéra last autumn. I'd seen her on stage in Aix-en-Provence, as Penelope [in Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria], a role she sang and characterized to marvellous effect." Marc Minkowski, too, recalls this decisive encounter: "For this character, you need a voice that's both androgynous and at the same time very youthful. And I found this voice the day I heard Marijana sing Penelope. It was a shock for me. I was hearing a pure alto voice, corresponding perfectly to the role's tessitura, located low down in the alto range." It was as much of a discovery for us listeners as it was for the singer herself. "It's a dream role," she says. "It's Marc who suggested it. I was due to sing it in Amsterdam in 2001. I prepared it, worked on it - and then mimed it on stage while Nathalie Stutzmann sang eight performances of it from the orchestra pit." Marc Minkowski is keen to stress that "she gave some remarkable performances, entirely believable, fully complementing the ones given by Marijana." Marijana Mijanovic: "I'd lost my voice. But I had the chance to take part in later performances, including the recording in Vienna. What an opportunity! The music is so powerful, so full of energy, it's music in which I feel totally at ease. This has made me want to explore other Handelian roles, including ones in Rodelinda and Tamerlano, two works written for the great castrato Senesino." Marijana Mijanovic refers specifically to her work with Marc Minkowski: "He listens, relies on your qualities and knows how to bring them out. Our work together has been really harmonious, though this didn't prevent us from taking risks. Sometimes we adopted very quick tempos, making the character too hysterical, before we chose the tempo that you can hear now."

... and Cleopatra
It is Magdalena Kožená who sings the part of Cleopatra. "For me, singing isn't a profession. It's something entirely natural. Cleopatra? It's one of Marc's mad ideas. But that's what I like about him. It's a real change for me. To move up from mezzo to soprano is risky. I don't like taking risks - except with Marc, on stage." Marc Minkowski explains what she means: "I wanted to go back to the score. There's a tradition of stratospheric Cleopatras with vertiginous da capos. I thought we needed a warm, lyrical, tragic voice. We were rehearsing in Amsterdam, and Magdalena was Sesto. I could hear her voice becoming lighter and brighter. I said to her, 'Magdalena, don't you think you could do Cleopatra?'" "Most of the time, I work on my own, at home," says Magdalena Kožená. "I studied the piano, so it's not difficult. I take the score and sit down at my piano. But this time I also worked with a pianist friend in London. The tessitura of Cleopatra's part is much more strenuous than that of the roles I'm used to singing. There are difficulties from the very start of the opera, with some of the arias more suited to a light soprano. You have to pay a lot of attention technically and solve the problem of how to deal with the high notes, especially as the role develops with coloratura passages in some of the da capos. Everyone expects these! In fact, it's enough to rely on the orchestra and its lightness of touch. And that's where Marc and his players come in." For Magdalena Kožená, this Cleopatra was a real experience, a challenge affecting not just the role ("She's not the child, the stupid wilful little girl that she's sometimes caricatured as being") but also the uncompromising score ("Just think that in the final act you still have to sing the bravura aria 'Da tempeste'"). But the role also marks an important stage in her development: "It extends me in the direction of other roles, whether or not they are Baroque, such as the title-roles in Handel's Agrippina and Massenet's Cendrillon."

Sesto ...
The role of Sesto is Anne Sofie von Otter's third Handelian collaboration with Marc Minkowski after Ariodante and Hercules, but on this occasion it is not a leading role. As Marc Minkowski says, "She is a true artist who is more interested in music than in her own person, immediately finding her place among all the other mezzos in the cast, with her unique mezza voce." "I'm always happy to sing with Marc," Anne Sofie von Otter replies. "And the role of Sesto contains some really fine music that moves the drama forward and that lies very well for my voice. Sesto is another young man like so many of the others that I've performed, from Cherubino to Sesto and Octavian. He seems very young at the start of the work, then gains in maturity and wisdom. He becomes brave when he was once scared, mature when he was young and naive. He develops, abandoning his earlier egoism in order to grow in stature. In fact, I've seen more performances of Giulio Cesare than of any other Handel opera, but I hadn't been involved in a production of it until now. Marc's musicality carried all before it, but that's not surprising. And the two concerts that we recorded in Vienna were absolutely magical, with a concentration, dynamism, and sense of musical ecstasy that were almost ideal."

    Marc Minkowski

A Biographical Timeline

Marc Minkowski was born in Paris in 1962. He began his musical career as a bassoonist, playing both in modern orchestras and in such period-instrument ensembles as Les Arts Florissants, the Clemencic Consort of Vienna and La Chapelle Royale. He gained his initial conducting experience in France and subsequently studied with Charles Bruck at the Pierre Monteux Conducting School in Hancock, Maine.

1982 Forms Les Musiciens du Louvre, a Paris-based period-instrument ensemble for the performance of Baroque and Classical repertoire; with them he has since achieved success both in concerts and recordings, championing music by Marais, Mouret, Charpentier, Lully and Rameau, and reviving interest in lesser-known Handel operas, such as Teseo, Amadigi, Riccardo primo, and Ariodante as well as several operas by Gluck, including Armide (at the Versailles Baroque Festival), Alceste, and Iphigénie en Tauride (at the English Bach Festival)
1984 Wins First Prize at the first International Early Music Competition in Bruges
1990 Awarded the Orphée d'or as "Best Young Conductor" by the French Académie du disque Lyrique
1993 Conducts Lully's Phaéton for the official reopening of the Lyon Opéra
1994 Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre sign an exclusive contract with Archiv Produktion
1995 First CD release on Archiv Produktion: Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie (Grand Prix de la Nouvelle Académie du disque, Grand Prix des discophiles, 1995; Cannes Classical Award, CD Compact, Barcelona, Diapason d'or, Orphée d'or, 1996)
1996 Conducts Mozart's Idomeneo at the Paris Opéra and Don Giovanni in Toronto; CD releases this year: Handel's La Resurrezione (Grand Prix de la Nouvelle Académie du disque, Grand Prix des discophiles, 1996) and Rameau's Anacréon and Le Berger fidèle
1997 Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre move to Grenoble where they join forces with the Orchestre de chambre de Grenoble; Minkowski makes his highly acclaimed Salzburg Festival début with Mozart's Entführung aus dem Serail (Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra); tours the Netherlands conducting Wagner's Der fliegende Holländer; CD releases this year: Charpentier's Te Deum and Messe de Minuit; Handel's Ariodante (Cannes Classical Award, Classic CD Award, 1999)
1998 CD releases this year: Mondonville's 6 Sonatas op. 3; Lully's Acis et Galatée
1998 / 1999 Conducts Weber's Oberon and Massenet's Cendrillon as Music Director of De Vlaamse Opera
1999 Concert performances of Rameau's Platée with Les Musiciens du Louvre at Salzburg in May and a new production of Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea, with Mireille Delunsch and Anne Sofie von Otter, at the Aix-en-Provence Festival; CD releases this year: Gluck's Armide; Roman Motets (including Dixit Dominus), and Messiah highlights (soundtrack from William Klein's film Le Messie) by Handel
2000 European tour of Handel's Hercules and recording for Archiv Produktion; begins a traversal of the complete Beethoven Symphonies with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, continuing this project in the following seasons; makes his Los Angeles Philharmonic début with Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique; CD releases this year: Rameau's Dardanus (Diapason d'or, 2000; Record Academy Prize, Tokyo, 2001) and Italian Cantatas by Handel, featuring Magdalena Kožená
2001 Conducts Handel's Ariodante with Anne Sofie von Otter and Les Musiciens du Louvre in Paris, Grenoble, Dresden, and Salzburg; with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra conducts Le nozze di Figaro at the Aix-en-Provence Festival; conducts Die Fledermaus at the Salzburg Festival and Handel's Giulio Cesare at Netherlands Opera; CD releases this year: Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride (Diapason d'or, 2001) and the complete Messiah
2002 CD releases of Handel's Hercules (awarded Diapason d'or and Choc du Monde de la musique) and of a collection of arias and scenes by Jacques Offenbach, both with Anne Sofie von Otter and Les Musiciens du Louvre. Handel's Giulio Cesare recorded live at the Vienna Konzerthaus in November; Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique recorded with the combined forces of Les Musiciens du Louvre and Mahler Chamber Orchestra in December
2003 Performances this year include Handel's Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno with Cecilia Bartoli in Zurich, Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann in Lausanne; makes his conducting début with the Berliner Philharmoniker and a tour with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette. CD releases include Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique as well as a collection of French arias, featuring Magdalena Kožená

    Magdalena Kožená

MAGDALENA KOŽENÁ was born in Brno, studied at the Brno Conservatory, and continued her studies with Eva Blahová in Bratislava. Her many prizes and awards culminated in the 6th International Mozart Competition in Salzburg in 1995. She appears regularly at the Prague Spring and Concentus Moraviae Festivals and at the major concert halls world-wide. Magdalena Kožená's recordings include a recital of Bach arias, Handel's Roman Motets and Italian Cantatas and Messiah with Marc Minkowski on the Archiv label; an acclaimed recital of arias by Mozart, Gluck, and Myslivecek and her first solo recital disc of love songs by Dvorák, Janácek, and Martinu with Graham Johnson (Gramophone Solo Vocal Award, 2001) for the Yellow Label, with whom she has signed an exclusive contract.

Her operatic engagements have included several notable débuts: at the Drottningholm Festival in Gluck's Paride ed Elena and at the Châtelet, Paris, as his Orphée; at the Vienna Festival as Nerone in Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea; in three Mozart operas - at the Edinburgh Festival in the role of Sesto (La clemenza di Tito), at the Salzburg Festival as Zerlina (Don Giovanni), and at the Aix-en-Provence Festival as Cherubino (Le nozze di Figaro); at the Leipzig Opera as Debussy's Mélisande; at the Netherlands Opera as Sesto in Handel's Giulio Cesare. She sang the centenary performance of Pelléas et Mélisande at the Opéra-Comique, Paris, and performed the role of Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare at the Vienna Konzerthaus, both conducted by Marc Minkowski.

    Anne Sofie von Otter

ANNE SOFIE VON OTTER was born in Stockholm and studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London with Vera Rosza. She also attended classes in lied interpretation with Geoffrey Parsons in London and Erik Werba in Vienna. Now regarded as one of the finest singers of her generation, the internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano - named Gramophone's "Artist of the Year" in 1996 - works with the pre-eminent conductors of the day, has sung with great success at the major opera houses of the world, and is a regular guest at leading festivals.

Her roles include Cherubino, Dorabella, Sesto, Tancredi, Cenerentola, Romeo in I Capuleti ed i Montecchi, the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos, and Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier (under the direction of Carlos Kleiber; released on video by Deutsche Grammophon). For Deutsche Grammophon/Archiv Produktion she has recorded Monteverdi's L'Orfeo and L'incoronazione di Poppea, Handel's Ariodante, Messiah, and Hercules, as well as Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, Mozart's Idomeneo, La clemenza di Tito, and Le nozze di Figaro, Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust, Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos, and Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. Anne Sofie von Otter has also achieved great success as a lieder interpreter. For the Stars, a collaboration with the songwriter, arranger, and producer Elvis Costello, and her recent disc of songs by Cécile Chaminade with Bengt Forsberg, which won a Gramophone Award, indicate the enormous range of her vocal and interpretive gifts.

    Marijana Mijanovic

MARIJANA MIJANOVIC was born in Valjevo, in the former Yugoslavia. In 1994, after initial piano studies at the Belgrade Music Academy she went on to study singing at the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam with Dutch mezzo-soprano Cora Canne Meijer. In 1997 she won first prize (Prix Jeunesse) in the International Opera Competition at Amsterdam's Concertgebouw. She has performed extensively with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants including Handel's Alcina at the Festival de Beaune and Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria in Aix-en-Provence, Paris, New York, Vienna, and London. She has sung Mahler's Das klagende Lied at the Concertgebouw with Hartmut Haenchen and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2000 she appeared in Bach's Christmas Oratorio under Philippe Herreweghe in Milan, Munich, Antwerp, Brussels, and Düsseldorf. Other performances included Vivaldi's Magnificat and Handel's La Resurrezione in Madrid, Utrecht, The Hague, Maastricht, and London. In February 2001 she made her début at the Paris Opéra, singing a Flower Maiden in Wagner's Parsifal, and she sang the title role in Giulio Cesare with Marc Minkowski at the Netherlands Opera as well as in Brussels, Vienna, Frankfurt, Grenoble, Ambronay, and Bremen. In January 2003 she made her début at Zurich Opera in Handel's Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, continuing the successful collaboration with Marc Minkowski.

    Handel's “Giulio Cesare in Egitto"

Giulio Cesare in Egitto was first performed at the King's Theatre, Haymarket, on 20 February 1724, three days before Handel's 39th birthday. By then the composer was well settled in London and in a career centred on Italian opera. It had been almost exactly 13 years since the opening performance at the same theatre of his first London opera, Rinaldo. Giulio Cesare was his fifth full-length work for the Royal Academy of Music. This opera company, founded in 1719, gave about 50 performances in its annual season, with many of its productions receiving only six or seven in a season, despite the heavy demands that each repertory piece placed on performers and on scenic presentation.

Although Handel had been appointed the company's “Master of the Orchestra" at its inauguration, he was not its sole house composer. During the seasons of 1722-23 and 1723-24, he, Giovanni Bononcini and Attilio Ariosti each provided three operas, but by then Handel was beginning to emerge as the dominant figure. There were 35 performances of his operas in the two seasons, compared with 25 each for the other two composers. One of Ariosti's new operas did particularly badly in the 1723-24 season, being performed only four times. Bononcini, Handel's most serious rival, dropped out at the end of the 1723-24 season. (A factor in these developments may have been the increasing influence of competitive factions supporting individual composers, among both the opera audience and the directors of the Royal Academy.)

The achievement of Giulio Cesare would have been regarded in its time as a remarkable success: it had 13 performances in 1724, ten performances in a revival the next year, and eleven performances at a later revival in 1730. It may have owed some of its popularity to the fact that the title character, unlike those in many operas, was a familiar figure, indeed one having associations with British history, not to mention Shakespearean drama. The printed libretto was prefaced by a dedicatory epistle to Caroline, Princess of Wales, and into the opening recitative the librettist worked a reference to the well-known phrase “Veni, vidi, vici" - although, in fact, Caesar used those words a year later than the opera's historical period, after defeating Pharnaces of Pontus at Zela in Asia Minor.

It was Handel's usual practice to add a completion date to his major scores, noting the day, month and year and using the ink pen with which he had just written the final bars. Giulio Cesare has only the pencil annotation “anno 1723", but it is certain that most, if not all, of the opera was composed during that year, an eventful one for Handel. In February he was granted a second royal pension of £200 per annum, apparently linked to a largely honorary appointment as “Composer of Music for the Chapel Royal"; from June comes the earliest evidence that he held a regular post as music master to the royal princesses; in July he moved into the house in Brook Street that was to be his home for the rest of his life.

It may have been that his newly settled personal circumstances enabled Handel to work in a more expansive way, for the first three operas that he wrote at Brook Street (Giulio Cesare, Tamerlano and Rodelinda) are longer and more ambitious than their predecessors. They mark, in fact, a high point in his compositions for the Royal Academy, and were subsequently matched in his Italian operas only by a similar accomplishment about a decade later with a group of operas he composed for Covent Garden. While Handel was enjoying his first year in his London home, his greatest musical contemporary was similarly establishing himself in his new post at Leipzig: J. S. Bach's St. John Passion received its first performance on 7 April 1724, four days before the last performance of the initial London run of Giulio Cesare; in terms of music history, however, Giulio Cesare may be more aptly compared to Bach's St. Matthew Passion, for these works represent two of the most monumental achievements in their respective Baroque genres.

Giulio Cesare has the rich exuberance of the composer in his prime, fluent in the writing of strong and characterful arias, and ready to take on the challenge of an elaborate musical drama that would run to more than three and a half hours of music. Its librettist was the London-based Italian musician and connoisseur Nicola Haym, who skilfully re-worked an old libretto by Giacomo Francesco Bussani that had originally been set by Antonio Sartorio for a production at Venice in 1676. Haym also drew on other sources, including a Milan libretto from 1685 which provided material for the early scenes of Act II. The use of pre-existing libretti was a regular practice for the London operas, though they were adapted to suit the current casts of performers and were normally heavily cut (particularly in the recitatives), partly in deference to the fact that the audience was not Italian-speaking.

There was, however, another important factor in adapting earlier libretti. A 17th-century opera text from Italy would have been designed for composers who were writing in a musical style less expansive than that of Handel in the 1720s, and might provide for more than 40 arias. If set complete in a later style, such a libretto would have resulted in an opera that overtaxed the stamina of the singers and the patience of the audiences. Inevitably, the carpentry that was necessary in re-working these older texts sometimes sacrificed elements that were crucial to an understanding of the plot and the motivations of individual characters. It was one of Haym's strengths that, when hard choices had to be made, he had both the literary and musical imagination to find workable solutions. In Giulio Cesare he preserved and enhanced the essential intricacies of the story and the characterizations, and produced a libretto that was both coherent and full of good musical opportunities. This came at a cost, however, in terms of overall length. In Handel's original performing version of the opera, Caesar and Cleopatra received eight arias apiece: in his preceding Academy opera, Flavio, no principal had had more than five.

To have composed a complete score on the scale of Giulio Cesare was a remarkable achievement in itself, but Handel wrote much more music for the opera than finally came to the stage. In the summer of 1723 he seems to have drafted most of Act I, but to a different version of the text and for a different combination of singers. Subsequently he completed and heavily revised the score in several successive stages - music was added, adapted, re-composed and cast aside in the process. In its performing version, therefore, Giulio Cesare was an opera over which he had taken a great deal of care, and whose music had occupied him for several months; yet it remained lively and spontaneous. The relationships between Caesar, Cleopatra and Ptolemy which are at the heart of the story are movingly presented, and the individual characters themselves are well rounded. Caesar is both the Roman soldier and the ardent lover; Cleopatra is both the Queen of Egypt and a flirtatious seducer (probably with genuinely serious underlying intentions); Ptolemy is both a dangerously ambitious man and a brother with a complex relationship to Cleopatra. The remaining characters are far from lightweight, either dramatically or musically, and the place of honour at the end of the first two acts is given to Cornelia and Sextus.

In the original production the roles of Caesar and Ptolemy were sung, respectively, by the castrati Senesino (Francesco Bernardi) and Gaetano Berenstadt, and Cleopatra by the soprano Francesca Cuzzoni. (The three singers are shown together in a famous contemporary engraving by John Vanderbank of an opera scene, though not from Giulio Cesare itself.) A further castrato (Giuseppe Bigonzi) had the part of Nirenus; Cornelia was played by the contralto Anastasia Robinson, and her son Sextus by the soprano Margherita Durastanti, while the remaining roles of Achillas and Curius were taken by the basses Giuseppe Boschi and John Lagarde.

The arias in Giulio Cesare are remarkable for the number which, within the conventions of the opera seria style, are tuneful as well as apposite: “Presti omai", “L'empio, sleale", “V'adoro, pupille", “L'angue offeso", “Venere bella" and “Piangerò la sorte mia" are all memorable in their own right, and doubly so in their dramatic contexts. Cleopatra's “Se pietà" combines various elements to produce an impassioned aria in the “pathetic" mode: shapely motivic phrases are passed between voice and violins in order to build up long melodic lines, and a rich accompanying texture incorporates the bassoon with the strings. Cornelia's “Nel tuo seno", although much shorter, is another grippingly anguished movement. Perhaps most remarkable of all is Caesar's romantically widely modulating accompanied recitative “Alma del gran Pompeo". According to Charles Burney, it was in this recitative and “Dall'ondoso periglio" in Act III that the castrato Senesino “gained so much reputation as an actor, as well as singer".

The orchestral accompaniment is mainly carried by Handel's usual opera-house ensemble of strings, oboes and bassoons, but it is greatly enlivened by the occasional use of flute, recorder and, most notably, horns: four of the instruments contribute to the opera's opening and closing scenes, while a horn obbligato both colours and shapes the lines of Caesar's aria “Va tacito e nascosto". The earliest orchestral use of horns in London had been in Handel's Water Music, only about six years previously, so the sound was still something of a novelty; the aria in Giulio Cesare is the only one in any of Handel's operas to make such use of a solo horn player. The most remarkable orchestral novelty of all, however, is the stage band of oboe, two violins, viola, harp, gamba, theorbo, bassoon and cello, apparently representing the nine Muses on Mount Parnassus, to introduce and accompany Cleopatra in “V'adoro, pupille". This extravagantly delicate scene provides a dramatic counterpoise to the rather brutal coup de théâtre in Act I in which Achillas, as Ptolemy's emissary, presents Caesar with Pompey's severed head.

Giulio Cesare is one of the relatively few operas of its type to include the on-stage death of one of the characters, when Ptolemy is killed in the duel with Sextus. Flavio, Handel's previous Royal Academy opera, had included a similar incident, though involving different performers, so perhaps an expert in sword-fighting was currently active in the opera company. The staging of the work required considerable resources, since there were a dozen different scenic settings, of which at least three or four must have been quite elaborate, and the libretto implies the presence of sizeable contingents of non-singing soldiers and attendants. In all aspects, this was one of the biggest productions of Italian opera with which Handel was involved in London, and it is not surprising that it was popular with audiences. As one correspondent wrote in March 1724:
The opera [season] is in full swing also, since Handel's new one, call'd Julius Caesar - in which Senesino and Cuzzoni shine beyond all criticism - has been put on. The house was just as full at the seventh performance as at the first.

Clearly, for this observer, any success beyond six performances was remarkable; it is possible that, in a variant on London's general theatrical practice, the seventh night was a benefit for the librettist or composer. In July 1724 a beautifully produced musical edition of movements from the opera was published in London, “Curiously engrav'd on Copper Plates Corrected and Figur'd by Mr Handel's own Hands". The composer's unusually high level of involvement in such a publication may well reflect his justifiable pride in the music of this marvellous work.

Donald Burrows