For those of you don't know, Tim and I are old friends - I taught with him at W & L when I first came to the region in 1996 - and since he has also been employed by OR (Steven asked Tim, Amy & I to do a Shakespeare recital for an awesome all-Shakespeare season in 2008-2009, I believe) - Tim is not allowed to review the opera for the Roanoke Times. This should explain the irony of the one character for whom he reserves criticism. Hint: this character was not onstage until the opera was over… I love it!
Let's hope they'll at least print it as a letter to the editor…
Julius Caesar at Opera Roanoke by Timothy Gaylard
The many moods of Handel’s Julius Caesar by Opera Roanoke were on display Friday night because of a talented singing cast and a responsive orchestra. This Baroque opera seria is a challenge because of its length, its difficult vocal writing, its convoluted plot and its requirement of elaborate visual effects. On all these counts, the company delivered a winning rendition, sparking an appreciative standing ovation at the end of the evening.
Of the many standout vocal performances, the title role of Caesar, played by mezzo soprano Teresa Buchholz, was particularly impressive because of a warm tone, a flexible technique and a charismatic stage presence. She was partnered well by Amy Cofield Williamson as Cleopatra, who played the famous Queen as a playful and seductive creature with changeable and complex feelings. Cofield Williamson dispatched all her arias with finesse, displaying an incredible vocal range and control, from the sustained beauty of “Piangero” to the fast coloratura of “Da tempeste.”
Carla Dirlikov played the crucial role of Cornelia with great expression and dramatic conviction. When she was joined by Toby Newman as Sesto in the moving duet “Son nato,” the effect was magical. Newman succeeded well in presenting her character as an impetuous and tortured young man. The male singers were equally as impressive. Eric Brenner sang the difficult part of Tolemeo with a colorful counter-tenor voice and he was both amusing and menacing in his characterization. Wes Mason revealed the many shades of his finely-wrought baritone, while the imposing Andrew Potter sang with a firm, but flexible bass.
Of the smaller roles, Angela Theis was especially memorable as Nireno, providing a clear, well-produced sound. Various members of the chorus and cast doubled effectively as soldiers, servants, and supporters. The ensemble for the final chorus was nicely balanced and projected. Scenes of Ancient Egypt, whether in a garden, a throne-room, a bedroom, or a battlefield, were aptly suggested by various re-arrangements of elements within a versatile main set. The steep staircases posed some physical challenges for the cast. Costumes and makeup, especially for Cleopatra, were visually stunning.
In the pit, Scott Williamson got the best out of his orchestral players, from the delicate strings to the seamless winds. The noble sound of Wally Easter’s horn in Caesar’s “Va tacito” was almost perfectly played. Only occasionally did Williamson push the tempi beyond what was comfortable for the singers. Overall, the production made a strong case for the opera’s greatness and the community around Roanoke should feel proud to have such a fine company in its midst.
Timothy Gaylard is Professor of Music at Washington and Lee University
Amy Cofield Williamson (Cleopatra), Teresa Buchholz (Giulio Cesare) and the cast of Opera Roanoke's Julius Caesar