Julius Caesar, An Opera by G.F. Handel, Houston Grand Opera Theater, Brown Convention Center, in Houston
This is a 3-1/2-hour-long opera, but no one notices the passage of time. So much happens that one’s interest is stimulated, but almost all of the action is in words, and not much movement occurs on stage, more’s the pity. It’s a tale about Caesar’s defeat of Pompey in Greece and his pursuit of him to Egypt. There Caesar associates with King Ptolemy XIII, who reigns over the Nile Valley with his sister, Cleopatra.
Ptolemy’s general, Achillas, arrives with a gift for Caesar, the severed head of Pompey. Sextus vows to revenge his father’s murder. Achillas promises to kill Caesar in exchange for the hand of Cornelia. Meanwhile, Cleopatra bewitches Caesar. She has taken control of the Roman armies, and, after much to-ing and fro-ing of the major players, Caesar crowns Cleopatra as the sole ruler of Egypt. Sextus and Ptolemy have it out, but finally everyone celebrates the return of peace.
Yes, it’s another goofy opera story that rarely makes sense, but no one cares because Handel’s glorious music entrances the audience, and they would accept any old story to hear it.
The music is so good because Handel is a genius, but that’s not the whole story. Caesar is played by Anthony Roth Costanzo, and he is a talented countertenor, meaning that he has a high voice, rather like a soprano. At first hearing the sounds he makes is surprising, but after a while you expect it and listen with a different ear than you usually use for male opera singers, even tenors. Two of the other male singers are countertenors, but they don’t sound like Costanzo. It’s an arresting experience.
All of the other singers are really good, especially Heidi Stober as Cleopatra, Stephanie Blythe as Cornelia, and Megan Mikailovna Samarin as Sextus. David Daniels as Ptolemy and Federico De Michelis as Achillas deliver controlled and melodious performances.
The sets are adequate but disturbed a little by the orchestra being on stage, and, in fact, there was more movement in the sets than in the performers.
I know you would want to know that my niece, Darin Montemayor, was a supernumerary.
“Julius Caesar” will be presented in the evening Saturday, Nov. 8 and Nov. 10. It’s more than worth the time and the trip.