OP0588. CLEOPATRA E CESARE (Carl Heinrich Graun), w.Jacobs Cond. Concerto Köln Ensemble; Janet Williams, Iris Vermillion, Lynne Dawson, Robert Gambrill, etc. 3-Harmonia Mundi 901561.63, Slipcase Edition w.Elaborate 167pp. Libretto-Brochure. [A most exceptional delight, especially for any Baroque aficianado!] Very long out of-print, Final ever-so-slightly used copy; disks & Libretto-Brochure are as New; slipcase shows very slight wear.
“Carl Heinrich Graun was court composer to Frederick the Great of Prussia, and this opera was chosen to open the new opera house in Berlin in 1742. It was a great success, but Handel’s opera on the same subject had appeared less than two decades before, and had anyone been familiar with that one, Graun’s might have come as a disappointment. Handel gets under his characters’ skins - Cleopatra’s eight arias tell us everything we have to know about her, for instance - while Graun (merely) offers some beautiful, well-orchestrated, at-times exciting music. Any composer would have been proud to compose Cesare’s heart-stoppingly vengeful last-act aria ‘Voglio strage’, and any mezzo (or castrato or countertenor) would be happy to sing it. Here, Iris Vermillion is spectacular, and elsewhere in the opera she’s as heroic, romantic, and colorful as our hero ought to be.
Her Cleopatra, Janet Williams, is a fine singer we’ve heard little from. On the basis of this recording her voice is handsome, stunningly flexible, and capable of fine shadings. Tenor Robert Gambill is a fierce Tolomeo, whose coloratura holds no fears for him - and the same might be said for Jeffrey Francis as Lentulo, Caesar’s confidant. Lynne Dawson is touching as Cornelia and the others are good, with Ralf Popken’s wacky countertenor a bit off base as the Arab prince, Arsace. The singers embellish their vocal lines in the da capo sections of their arias. René Jacobs clearly believes in this music and his Concerto Köln plays splendidly, embellishing the instrumental lines with vigor. If this opera lacks the probing of Handel’s, so what? It’s a joy to hear, and this performance is excellent.”
- Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
“René Jacobs began his career as a countertenor and quickly earned the reputation as one of the finest of his time. But he gradually turned to conducting and since the turn of the new century has rarely sung in concert. As a countertenor Jacobs championed a string of forgotten Baroque composers on his recordings: Antonio Cesti, Sigismondo d'India, Luca Marenzio, Pierre Guédron, Michel Lambert, and others. But he also sang, in both concert and opera, many standards by Monteverdi, J.S. Bach, Handel, Telemann, and Mozart. As a conductor, he has led many performances of sacred music by J.S. Bach, Buxtehude, and others, and has focused heavily on the operas of Monteverdi, Handel, and Mozart. He has conducted purely orchestral music as well, notably symphonies by Haydn and Mozart.
René Jacobs took master classes with countertenor Alfred Deller. Already active on the concert stage, Jacobs made his operatic début in Amsterdam in 1974, singing Clerio in Francesco Cavalli's ERISMENA. In 1977 Jacobs founded Concerto Vocale, an ensemble he would appear with in many concerts, operatic productions and recordings.
By the 1980s Jacobs was steeped in conducting commitments, though he continued to sing, often in the same concerts. He was also editing performing editions of operas, as he famously did for the 1989 performance he led at the Opera de Montpellier of Monteverdi's L'INCORONAZIONE DI POPPEA. In the 1990s Jacobs established his credentials as one of the finest conductors on record of Mozart's operas."
- Robert Cummings, allmusic.com