Julius Caesar

In recent years, opera has come under increasing pressure to change its production values to more closely resemble that of theatre: casting has become more cognizant of age and physical type, staging has become generally less conceptual and abstract, and acting has become more naturalistic.

Given the struggle for classical arts to survive in the highly competitive entertainment market, this adaptation is a good thing. Sometimes, though, it is difficult for opera to accommodate these changes, because many pieces were written in eras when opera performances were judged not by their appearances, but as externalizations of the thoughts and feelings of its characters.

Photo of Stephanie Blythe as Julius Caesar and Elizabeth Futral as Cleopatra
Stephanie Blythe as Julius Caesar and
Elizabeth Futral as Cleopatra
Photo credit: P. Switzer
Thus, "trousers roles" (women playing men), or the castrati which they replaced, were taken for their musical value, that is the register in which certain parts were sung, while their visual synaesthesia was ignored.

Photo of Elizabeth Furcal as Cleopatra
Elizabeth Furcal as Cleopatra
Photo credit: P. Switzer
That said, Opera Colorado's current production of George Frideric Handel's Julius Caesar requires a split-sensory approach if one is to enjoy the fine music and magnificent voices. Much like last summer's production of Antony and Cleopatra by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Opera Colorado's stage director James Robinson has chosen to set this ancient story in modern times (in this case, Hollywood in the '30's), and much like the CSF's approach it loses context and, amidst a surfeit of anachronisms and stylistic wild hairs, often ceases to make sense. Granted, the Busby Berkeley inspired come on by Cleopatra evoked laughs, but it was out of step with the drama.

Photo of Patricia Risley as Sextus and Nancy Maultsby as Cornelia
Patricia Risley as Sextus
and Nancy Maultsby as Cornelia
Photo credit: P. Switzer
Close your eyes, however, and this is as fine a Julius Caesar as you're likely to hear: Elizabeth Futral, as Cleopatra, once again steals the show with her heavenly instrument and silver screen good looks; Stephanie Blythe's mezzo-soprano shines as Caesar (though I don't believe for a minute there's any chemistry here between "the great lovers"); Mezzo-soprano Patricia Risley combines a strong vocal and acting performance; and Nancy Maultsby is a passionate Cornelia. Opera Colorado's Julius Caesar concludes with performances Friday evening, February 18th and Sunday, February 20th at 2 pm. 303-893-4100.

Bob Bows


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