YOU have to hand it to these opera boys, no subject is sacred or taboo and Handel’s baroque epic about Cleopatra’s seduction of Julius Caesar touches on lust, love, incest, betrayal, sexual assaults, plotting, counter plotting and murder.
A comedy, it ain’t.
Played out on a fabulous rotating set and to the accompaniment of violins, harpsichords and trumpets, the tone is set when Pompeo (Jem Debbs), is killed during the overture!
If that’s a decent dramatic impact what follows is a rollercoaster ride as Cornelia, Pompeo’s widow (Ann Taylor) in league with her son Sesto (played by mezzo soprano Kathryn Rudge), vow to revenge her husband’s death.
The gender confusion is brought about because some of these roles were played by castratos in the early 18th century.
Hence Caesar is played by Pamela Helen Stephen and the treacherous Tolomeo (Cleopatra’s brother and husband), played by the sadistic James Laing, sings in a higher countertenor, providing startling contrasts throughout.
A sibling power struggle erupts between Cleopatra (Sarah Tynan) and Tolomeo for the throne of Egypt.
This is complicated by Cleopatra using her plentiful charms to entice Caesar to her side, both militaristically and sexually.
The dilemma for Caesar is: Egypt or Cleopatra.
He manages to straddle both and with the help of an abused Cornelia and Sesto, and the turncoat Achilla (Jonathan Best), Tolomeo’s initial victory is overturned and Cleopatra is presented with the throne of Egypt.
An ensemble piece that touches perfection throughout, Opera North has never sounded better.