White Shirt Monday: Handel This.

MTSSTCSRAC[some serious Sestappeal: Alice Coote as Sesto in Handel’s “Giulio Cesare”, New York/MET 2013. – Photo Credit: Marty Sohl/Met Opera]

“Io son nata a lagrimar” applies in this instance only to lament the obvious lack in this originally Glynedebourne-produced McVicar Cesare: there is no Sarah Connolly (with apologies to David Daniels, but ot my eyes and ears,  Connolly outswaggers him). Thankfully, there is a DVD to remedy that.

But now for the bounty: the current MET run (continuing on tomorrow and running through May 9th in case you are in the area and in the needs of some mezzo voce) features the one and only Alice Coote as Sesto, which puts any debates about who the evening’s 40 Guns Award recipent will be to rest (of course, if this were Malena Ernman, we’d have to amplyify it to the 42 Guns Award).

Or does it?


[Natalie Dessay’s Cleopatra and the ambiguity of cuffs: there are two ways this could go. We approve of both. “Giulio Cesare”, New York/MET 2013. – Photo Credit: Marty Sohl/Met Opera]

I’d say Coote still wins, even in knee socks. But most of all, we win at large, because what is better than a mezzo in a suit? A mezzo in a suit and a soprano in a suit on top. In a purely figurative manner (You can’t have it all, this isn’t “Alcina”).

This “Cesare” will be on for the HD MET broadcast, if you have about €30 spare (for this Sesto? – That is a rhetorical question, right?!), on April 27th.

14 thoughts on “White Shirt Monday: Handel This.”

  1. Connolly has ruined me for any other Cesare, and I vehemently dislike countertenors, so I’m not planning to go to the HD broadcast. However, this decision was made before I knew Coote was singing Sesto. Now I’m conflicted. 🙂

    To prove my point about Connolly, here’s a GIFset I made.

    Also, cuff ambiguity: shirt cuffs vs handcuffs??? I’m not getting the implications here…


      1. Dessay was ill and unable to perform on the 9th, so was replaced by Danielle de Neise, who happened to be in town. There is considerable speculation about this that I’m not going into, as its been done to death on parterre.com and elsewhere. I happen to really like de Neise for what she is, so while sorry that Dessay couldn’t go on, was quite content with DDN, for whom a lot of the choreography was tailored. De Neise, to my ear, sang great. The appearance of the tweed suits in act 3 doesn’t have any real dramatic function, it’s probably more suited to the dance moves for “Da Tempesta.” I’m still convinced, of course, that much of the ideas behind that number are lifted from Susan Larson’s performance in the late 1980s Sellars production, who swung her hips in a gold lamé bikini.

        Coote’s Sesto is a lot more fleshed out than most Sestos. She gave it her butchest best this time around, while retaining Sesto’s youth, vulnerability and sense of self-reflective horror at his own underlying violent tendency. He starts out as Victorian/Edwardian colonial son, totally under his mothers dominance, but squirms intuitively at the inevitable. This version isn’t heavily cut, so Sesto gets about four arias and the end of act 1 duet. Cornelia is played by my fellow northsider Dub Patricia Bardon with brilliance and glamour (Maith an cailín!)

        “Svegliatevi nel core” was sung with punch and gusto, as Sesto senses his fathers spirit and swears to avenge him. Sesto’s next aria, “Cara speme”, was most beautifully sung by Coote, with some gorgeous, musical ornamentation in the return of the da capo, with Sesto now sporting a smart dark suit and handling a sword.

        The duet “Son nata a lagrimar” finishes up act 1, with Sesto by now having been given a hiding at the hands of his Egyptian guards, and Cornelia believing they are to be separated for good. Sesto spends this and much of the next act in dashing bloodstained tweed and knee high riding boots, appearing toting guns and waving them around, including pointing one into the audience during his remaining second act aria with macho verve.

        By act 3, Sesto now enters dressed in a Biggles-meets-Rambo leather and tweed getup as you can see here, http://www.wqxr.org/#!/blogs/operavore/2013/apr/05/review-mets-giulio-cesare-politics-and-bollywood-dance/, laden with rounds of machine gun ammo. By now he’s got several guns and a sword, he briefly sword fights Tolomeo and kills him, before finishing him off with shooting him also! For me, Sesto’s third act aria, “La giustizia”, was one of the highlights of the night, sung by Coote with panache and gritted-teeth determination.

        What was fabulous about Coote interpretation though, was the constant sense that Sesto is horrified by all of this, and intuitively recoiling from his inevitable deed as murderer of Ptolemy. Some Sesto’s just go dead in the final scenes, but Coote’s Sesto looks like he about to go over the edge as the ghosts of the dead sneak back onstage during Cesar and Cleopatra’s duet. It’s a performance full of feeling, musicality, a very intuitive characterisation beautifully sung and lovingly performed. Go to the HD, it’s almost Handel goes to broadway, there is so much to enjoy in this performance from the whole cast. I’ll probably blog on this properly on my own blog after Friday, as I bought another ticket in hope Dessay might make it.


        1. thank you so much for taking the time to type up your impressions!
          Looking forward to your own blog post on this, too.


  2. They’re broadcasting this in cinemas here and I might go but for want of Connolly at least Coote should have been Cesare! Countertenors are fine in some roles but hardly a warrior hero – such roles take some serious female masculinity.


  3. I wouldn’t put Coote on as Cesare: she’d do it justice but her upper register is where all the fun is these days, it would waste those swoon-inducing high Bs which she capably produces these days. She’s no English contralto anymore. She can produce the goods in that velvety chest register but by far anything in a slightly higher tessitura brings out the fireworks more so.

    Oddly enough though, and apologies for harping on about Irish mezzos, but Ann Murray did a fairly respectable Cesare in her time at ENO and I think possibly Munich under Ivor Bolton. I’m not sure I’d put her on now, but the Cesare arias do demand power as well as coloratura panache. Lemieux, perhaps?

    I was talking to a lovely lady from Princeton during last nights interval who is a good friend of the countertenor who Is cover for Daniels, the name evades me but apparently this guy is sensational.

    But Natalie, dear Natalie. I was so happy to see Dessay make last night. She was engaging, coquettish and well, classy. She did well vocally in my rather rusty opinion. There is a lot more colour to Dessay’s voice than DDN, I felt it was at its best in the arias where there is less choreographic distraction. The seduction aria in act 2 was very memorable indeed.

    But last night was almost Coote’s night. All I could hear out in the bar on the grand tier was raving about the Sesto. She was controlled, secure and sung the knickers off Handel. I’m an old time Lorraine Hunt Lieberson fan and one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard in my life was Hunt’s “Cara Speme.” I’ve heard various others do it, including Coote, but last night was the first time I’ve heard a performance that was on a par to LHL. It was emotional, vulnerable and self-aware. Every ornament felt just right and the da capo return ornamentation especially beautiful. Sesto almost became a young TE Lawrence in Coote’s capable hands. If the live in HD performance is anything like this it will be worth it for that one aria alone.


    1. Thank you for taking the time to check back in and describe your impressions – love your observations. I’m so glad Dessay was up and doing well (if she is good, she is REALLY good, I’ve never heard her lukewarm). Very good point about Cootes’ top register. Another reason to go see the HD!


    2. yes, thanks a lot for both installments. i was particularly interested in hearing how Dessay performed (on side note, loove her hair and uniform up there!) . I’ve heard Cesare only once and was soo busy w/ Connolly’s take that i completely overlooked all Sesto’s stuff, need to go back and re-listen..


  4. Well, this is going to be a bit of a long one. I saw the broadcast from the Met yesterday. It was interesting to compare it to Glyndebourne – no picnic for one. I really enjoyed it but it seemed to have got much less subtle than it was at Glyndebourne e.g maniacal laughter from Cornelia when Sesto shoots Ptolomey.

    Alice Coote I found disappointing at first but from Cara Speme on she was excellent. Natalie Dessay was very good as Cleopatra and Christophe Dumaux has really developed his portrayal of Ptolomey and he still carries off the Nijinsky Golden Slave pose wonderfully.

    I wanted to see David Daniels at Glyndebourne as I wondered if he would be as good as she was the year before but couldn’t get tickets. I am quite glad now. He was good in bits and I might have found him better if I hadn’t seen Sarah. From the first appearance he just didn’t make much impression. I remember Sarah stalking down the stage and sweeping her gaze across the audience – I think we all sat to attention. She was so much more the Emperor, soldier and lover and created such relationships with the other characters. I wasn’t expecting the same interpretation as characters change with every singer but I did expect more as I have liked him in other things.

    Thank goodness they did the DVD with the cast from the first season.

    I hope Sarah does Cesare again at some point.


    1. thank you for your impressions and the interesting comparisons! I assume we all hope that Connolly isn’t through with Cesare yet!


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