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GRAMOPHONE (08/2016)
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Reviewer: Alexandra Coghlan


But where cameras only heighten the impact both Alcina and Saul had live, it’s the original confusions and the excesses of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s Giulio Cesare that emerge uppermost. Reimagining Cesare (Andreas Scholl) as a shiny-suited Eurocrat, inspecting some war-torn colonial outpost, they throw every imperialist cliché at the audience in vain hope something will stick. Drilling rigs jostle with camouflage-clad warlords and a life-size plastic crocodile. It’s facile, but above all it’s confusing. There’s just too much going on in Leiser and Caurier’s action to grasp on a smaller screen, and too little dramatic hierarchy.


Cecilia Bartoli rises above it all, however (both musically and quite literally, on the warhead that carries her Cleopatra up and off into the wings during ‘V’adoro pupille’). If her vocal delivery is sometimes mannered, occasionally self-indulgent, it’s also a miracle of precise coloratura and glowing tone, manipulated for expressive effect as only she can. Who else could sing ‘Piangerò’ with a bag over their head, and pull it off?


Reportedly underpowered on stage, here Scholl comes across strongly in the balance, dispatching a manly ‘Va tacito’ filled with all his old warmth, and making a fine foil for Philippe Jaroussky’s Christopher Robin-esque Sesto – all short trousers and querulous treble. But the surprise star here in this clutch of countertenors is Christophe Dumaux’s grubby Tolomeo. Is it really necessary for him to masturbate to a porn magazine through an entire aria? Of course not. But his coloratura is so agile and tightly muscled that you all but forget the context. Add strong turns from Anne Sofie von Otter’s Cornelia and Jochen Kowalski’s cross-cast Nirena (complete with surprise aria), and it makes you wish that Salzburg had given this outstanding cast the production they deserved, instead of a lukewarm rehashing of Peter Sellars’s ideas from 1990.

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