We had tickets for the Live at the Met screening of Giulio Cesare tonight. Ten minutes in, and I was snoozing. It often happens at these opera showings; it’s not an insult to the opera – on the contrary, that slide into the darkness of the cinema and the light, sound and colour of the stage make me relax, relinquishing quotidian demands and tensions. It’s a power nap, and I wake soon, ready to inspect whatever is on offer this time.
What was on offer was a huge, long, strange confection, seeming (to me) uneasy in its twenty-first century production. Do producers just feel the urge to be different, do they secretly think Handel is dull and needs to be livened up, or are they not really at home with a classical setting and high seriousness? I didn’t mind the costumes hopping from period to period (though the barrage balloons were coming it a bit strong). I’m fine with humour and tragedy occurring side by side; but here I wasn’t convinced that there was any justification for low comedy either in the music or the libretto. The dancing was slightly distracting, but I took my hat off to Natalie Dessay for her sheer stamina in the Cleopatra role.
I’d love to know what Handel himself would have made of it. Handel’s music, however, came out strong, and dusted off the incongruities like dandruff.