A dream-vocal poster, the countertenor’s successful debut as an opera conductor: Handel’s work offers great musical joy. The object of a strong bronca at the salutes, however, the staging of Damiano Michieletto at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysée has nothing unworthy, and benefits from the involvement of both the conductor and the singers.
“A peplum cast” according to Philippe Jaroussky, who for once does not evolve on the set but in the pit: this would be the first (and sufficient) reason to go and discover the production of Giulio Cesare i Egitto, of Commerce, presented until May 22 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. A fabulous collection of baroque stamps takes up the challenge of taking on a role as the chef. In 1724, Sextus was entrusted to a woman, Margherita Durastanti, and the castrated Senesino assumed the role of Julius Caesar. In 2022, Franco Fagioli, who has so far been distributed as César, dedicates Sextus’ formidable air and thirst for revenge, and mezzo-soprano Gaëlle Arquez composes a César as generously in sound as in intentions. Equally compelling are the cyclothymic Cleopatra by Sabine Devieilhe, the noble Cornélie by Lucile Richardot, the disgusting Ptolémée by Carlo Vistoli, the fiery Achille by Francesco Salvadori and Nireno and the Curio by Paul-Antoine Bénos-Djian and Adrien Fourna. Jaroussky Academy.
They benefit from an attentive accomplice. As a newcomer to this place, Philippe Jaroussky often sang Sextus, as he was “only” a countertenor. He knows the work, its pitfalls and its subtleties and puts this knowledge at the service of the production as a whole, ensures the singers’ vocal comfort, breathes with them, while in each scene he seeks a climate that does justice to the text rather than to the scenic project. His Artaserse ensemble, founded in 2002, provides all the desired colors and shades, and the balance between pit and plateau, which is so difficult to achieve even for experienced chefs, is never wrong. Jaroussky could still get energy for his opening, a little too cautious. And with more authority, keep the main line of the work, something played out here, at numerous pauses – mostly evoked, it is true, by the persistent applause that welcomes every single air of bravery. This room for improvement does not prevent him from achieving his streaks as a lyrical conductor with honors, to the obvious delight of fans who are well represented in the room.
Far from achieving the same approval, Damiano Michieletto and his team were amply mocked at the salute. Completely unfair because their proposal does not betray the libretto, digs intelligently into the psychology of the characters and is full of visual ideas. Dressed in elegant contemporary costumes, the protagonists are prisoners of a relentless fate, materialized by red threads, the intertwining of which will become ever closer, weaving three destinies for the Romans and three carved creatures of animal skulls on the side of the Egyptians. Sentenced to impending death, or severely affected by the murder of a loved one, Caesar, Cleopatra, Cornélie and Sextus have direct access to the dark dimension, which on stage nips the big white box where the show is. Showers of ashes, storm surges of streamers who are less innocent than it seems, disguise games, temporal rupture opened by the appearance of conspirators dressed in Roman gowns, dumb omnipresence of Pompey’s ghost … We are amazed, and if not always it is kind or graceful, everything is charged with a meaning that constantly stimulates our curiosity.
The singers do more than just play the game. Sabine Devieilhe’s light soprano develops at the same time as her Cleopatra: as intoxicated by her own virtuosity, when she’s still just a junk pin-up, with her hair made à la Louise Brooks or a Rita Hayworth, it gets a whole weight of emotion when disaster overtakes her and she must become a true queen. The two-part lament of Sextus / Fagioli and Cornélie / Richardot at the end of the first act is all the more outrageous because Michieletto, without enjoying it, does not downplay the nature of the threats and suffering suffered by the widow and the orphans. Ptolemy’s long air of revenge when he thinks he has defeated Cleopatra is enriched by a whole silent account of the hate-love relationship between brother and sister. Etc…
We bet that this production will be better understood during its possible recovery or during a viewing of its audiovisual recording. To be seen soon on Culturebox, France 3 Aquitaine and Mezzo, it will be visible from September 17 on TCE Live, a new digital channel launched by the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. This channel, available from May 14, offers one stage production per month, with free admission, and begins with the broadcast of a show filmed behind closed doors in 2021, Point d’orgue / The human voice.
r Giulio Cesare and Egitto, by Georg Friedrich Handel, until 22 May, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. About 3h40 with a break. Revival from 7 to 11 June in the Opéra Comédie de Montpellier (with Emöke Baráth and Paul Figuier replacing Sabine Devieilhe and Paul-Antoine Bénos-Djian). Upcoming broadcast of the recording on Culturebox, and on September 17 on TCE Live.