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Giulio Cesare review at Glyndebourne, Lewes – ‘a memorable revival’

Sarah Connolly and Joelle Harvey in Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne Festival. Photo: Bill Cooper
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David McVicar’s Glyndebourne staging of Julius Caesar in Egypt was an overwhelming success back in 2005, helping to consolidate the position of its composer in the regular repertoire and turning newcomer Danielle De Niese into an international star.

Thirteen years on the production returns for its third revival, with no fewer than three of the original cast members back as well as the conductor, William Christie.

On the first night, though, not all was well with Sarah Connolly, whose performance of the title role sounded uncharacteristically muted, though she went through the dramatic motions with her customary conviction: a vocal off night, let’s hope, for this exceptional artist.

Also a returnee, Patricia Bardon maintained the dignified sorrow of Pompey’s widow Cornelia, her expressive powers undiminished, as were those of countertenor Christophe Dumaux, once again a dangerously volatile villain as Tolomeo.

New cast members, too, made solid impressions. Anna Stephany presented Cornelia’s hot-headed son Sesto with dramatic authority and complete vocal command. Korean countertenor Kangmin Justin Kim revealed star quality as he capered with conspicuous dexterity through Nireno’s routines, while American baritone John Moore brought thrilling vocalism and high-definition characterisation to Tolomeo’s treacherous general Achilla.

Joelle Harvey sang and danced Cleopatra with terrific aplomb, though without being able to efface memories of De Niese in a role that was tailor-made for her in McVicar’s choreographically hyperactive staging.

The production itself – certainly one of the director’s finest – retains its all-too-rare combination of intellectual rigour with unstoppable theatrical entertainment.

Once again in charge of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Christie remains a committed Handel interpreter, and if there’s a lingering doubt – as with other elements of the show – that the boundless energy evident back in 2005 has dissipated somewhat, enough endures to make this a noteworthy revival.

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A blend of new cast members and returnees makes for a memorable Glyndebourne revival