Give Now

Julius Caesar

The IU Opera Theatre is presenting a creatively staged, dramatically involving and gorgeously sung production of George Frederic Handel’s Julius Caesar . Handel’s Caesar is the Roman Emperor and conqueror of Egypt.

Designer Robert O’Hearn has placed the drama in costumes and settings that echo the movie version of Frank Herbert’s Dune. However, it is definitely an Egyptian Dune. The set filled with pyramids. Some are plain and some have eyes. There are giant walls of polished granite, gossamer curtains and fairy tale cascades of flower petals. On the backdrop there are shadow projections of a giant cat and of a massive sphinx.

Guest director Stefano Vizioli has plenty of interesting action. There is some that is simply appropriate and efficient stage business and a great deal that helps to further the drama and our insights into the characters. The IU production proves that Handel operas aren’t unwieldy static affairs that simply offer opportunities for fancily ornamented arias. In fact one of the hallmarks of the opera is the growth and change of the principals.

Saturday evening’s cast offered the fine singing of Brandon Mayberry, initially simply a resolute and commanding Caesar, and later a man who could be touched by love and moved by compassion. Mayberry ably seconded by Chris Gobles. Rebecca Ball was Egypt’s Queen Cleopatra. In her singing and acting Ball aptly showed a woman who at first is the bitchiest of queens and sisters but gradually grows to a fuller and more mature person. Michael Mentzel sang well and was quite the cut-up as Cleopatra’s confidant.

Andrew Darling played the Egyptian General Achilla. Darling carried off the role of a man who is by turns merely dutiful, then lustful and finally supportive of the right. Achilla’s King was Cleopatra’s brother the scheming Ptolomy. Nathan Baer sang well and was hateful in a rainbow of ways.

Everyone that I’ve mentioned from IU’s Julius Caesar sang very well. But for me the two standouts, even above these were Hannah Penn and the much put upon Cornelia and Michael Match as her son Sesto. Penn has a lovely mezzo voice that is true, full and wonderfully warm and expressive. Michael Match is the only counter-tenor in either cast of this year’s production. The other parts that Handel wrote for counter tenors or castrati’s are taken an octave down by regular male voices.

A male singer who works in a woman’s range is not part of our serious contemporary dramatic conventions. An early solo vengeance aria by a man singing soprano seemed initially laughable, but Match’s artistry and the range of his voice won me over. His duet with Penn at the end of the first act was a miracle of harmonic richness and dynamic give and take.

Conductor David Effron led the production with an emphasis on pace, rhythm and energy that didn’t slight any of the voluptuous beauty of the vocal or instrumental portions.

The IU Opera Theatre’s production of Handel’s Julius Caesar plays this Friday and Saturday nights. This is a hallmark production that in coming years people will be talking about and looking back to fondly.

George Walker

After completing an M.A.T. degree in English at Indiana University, George Walker began announcing for WFIU in 1967. Along with regularly hosting classical music shows, he interviews artists and reviews plays and operas.

View all posts by this author »

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from Indiana Public Media Arts & Music:

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

Search Arts and Music

Stay Connected

RSS e-mail itunes Facebook Twitter Flickr YouTube

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from Indiana Public Media Arts & Music:

Recent Classical Music Stories

Classical Music Events RSS icon

More Events »Submit Your Event »

Arts & Music is on Twitter

Find Us on Facebook

This Week on Harmonia Early Music

Santa’s Playlist

feat of st nick

Here's a sampling from an array of early music recordings – new and old, from performers like the Tallis Scholars, Boston Camerata, The Sixteen, and more.

Read more »

Harmonia Early Music is a nationally syndicated weekly early music radio program, podcast and blog produced by WFIU Public Radio.

More from Harmonia »