Giulio Cesare in Egitto is a work of epic proportions: its ravishing score contains about thirty arias (depending on the version), two duets and three choruses, making the opera’s running time over three and a half hours. Though Ottavio Dantone trimmed the opera considerably for this performance (his cuts, beyond omitting arias, involved doing away with the choruses, cutting most of Curio's part and omitting Nireno entirely), this Cesare retained all its energy and appeal, and with a starry cast delivering virtuoso performances, it made for three hours of heavenly music-making.

Lawrence Zazzo © Justin Hyer
Lawrence Zazzo
© Justin Hyer

In the title role, Lawrence Zazzo performed the part of Cesare with a nice touch of humour beyond the mix of boisterous confidence and genuine lovesickness.  His affinity for this music is unquestionable, showing off his firm, vibrant countertenor that is still remarkably easy at the top, with impressive coloratura and stylish singing. His performance lived up to the demands of the role of Cesare, fully encompassing its vocal and emotional complexities. Zazzo's singing was especially arresting in a heartfelt, poignant “Aure, deh, per pietà” and a very playful “Va tacito” (thanks to the wonderful interplay with the horn player).

Zazzo’s Cesare was more than well matched by Emőke Baráth as Cleopatra. This tour saw Baráth’s debut in the role and she delivered an outstanding performance. Her bright, pearly tone was matched with dazzling coloratura and sensitive phrasing made her absolutely ideal for the part. From the delightfully cheeky “Non disperar”, through the heart-broken “Se pietà” and “Piangerò la sorte mia”, to the joyous “Da tempeste”, her performance was consistently gripping. Indeed, it was difficult not to fall in love with Baráth's Cleopatra. The final duet was enchantingly sung by Zazzo and Baráth, their voices blending wonderfully.

Emőke Baráth © Zsofi Raffay
Emőke Baráth
© Zsofi Raffay

The rest of the cast delivered similarly outstanding performances. Filippo Mineccia was a wonderfully impish Tolomeo, singing with a smooth, warm tone and manic energy, tearing up the stage with every appearance. Delphine Galou is well suited for noble anguish and her portrayal of Cornelia was a deeply touching one, her dark, velvety contralto blending beautifully with the orchestra in her arias. As her son, Julie Boulianne was a fiery Sesto, her deliciously rich mezzo deployed with burning intensity in “L’angue offeso” and “L’aura che spira”, and with touching simplicity in “Cara speme”. Riccardo Novaro made for a suitably creepy and menacing Achilla, his pleasant baritone especially appealing in his smoothly threatening “Tu sei il cor di questo core”.

Ottavio Dantone's conducting was generally on the slow side, while curiously tending to take brisker tempi for the more sorrowful and introspective pieces such as “Son nata a lagrimar” or “Aure, deh, per pietà”. Under his baton, the Accademia Bizantina performed with a dry, lively tone, the woodwinds providing some particularly lovely playing throughout. Though the orchestra seemed to lose focus at times in the first half of the concert, playing tepidly and lacking the intensity they so aptly displayed otherwise, their overall performance was engaging and committed, rounding off a memorable performance that was very warmly received and will no doubt be fondly remembered by the Viennese public.