Beverly Sills Index Page

Giulio Cesare 1968 Live Performance Review

American Record Guide March/April 2000, p.120-121 by John Baker

devised as a vehicle for Treigle, and crystallizing the star status of Sills, the highly acclaimed production of Giulio Cesare that was given in 1966 by the New York City Opera-directed by Tito Capobianco and conducted by Julius Rudel in his abbreviated and touched-up performing edition-was recorded the following year by RCA. Despite the purist arguments that could be made against it, that recording has endured for its artistic merits (6182 on CD).

In September 1968, Sills and Treigle made their debuts in Buenos Aires at Teatro Colon, in their admired roles but in a different production and different performing edition, by no less a baroque specialist of the day than Karl Richter. Richter himself was to go on yet one year later, in 1969, to record the full, long score of this Handel opera for DC, with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Tatiana Troyanos as the stars. (Having thus sung Cleopatra, mezzo Troyanos went on in a later staged production to sing the castrato role of Cesare in its original register. But that’s another story.)

Joining Treigle and Sills with Richter in Handel might at a glance seem rather like Abbott and Costello Meet the Wolfman in the Haunted House, in stylistic terms. To be sure, Richter is a formidable but rather stolid and distant presence in these excerpts, with the orchestra miked murkily in relation to the voices. Still, what is here is enough to prompt regret that the entire performance was not given us, rather than just a bunch of barely connected highlights. Except for the Overture and five segments of recitative, the excerpts here are concentrated entirely on the two stars. (Only in the scraps of recitative do we hear other members of the cast: Maureen Forrester as Cornelia, Peter Schreier as Sesto, and Franz Crass as 1′010meo.)

In the full score, Caesar and Cleopatra each have eight arias, plus a couple of important accompagnato recitatives. Here we have four of Caesar’s arias, plus his famous ‘Alma del gran Pompeo’; five of Cleopatra’s arias plus two accompagnato pieces; their big duet, and the final ensemble. Among these is the big seduction scene (’V'adoro, pupille’) in Act II. Representing the score is less important than documenting the fine vocal estate of the two stars, as they are caught up in the excitement of stage performance. Adjustment to the less than ideal sonics is easily made, and one can really remember what a powerful singer Treigle was and how sad that his career was cut short still at its peak. Sills is genuinely beguiling, and while she uses essentially the same embellishments as in the studio recording, they convey new freshness and daring here.