Bold interpretation visualized by lighting designer Patrick Woodroffe
The Finnish National Opera is proud to present its first Baroque opera in 30 years, as the premiere of George Frideric Handel's Giulio Cesare takes the stage on January 20. Contratenors Franco Fagioli and Owen Willetts are slated to play the starring roles and the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra, led by the Baroque specialist Howard Arman, will put in a guest orchestral appearance.
Giulio Cesare's director Ville Saukkonen promises a remarkable show, full of the kind of pluck, fancy and opulence one could expect from a Baroque-era opera. The events of the opera have been nevertheless transferred to the present day. Saukkonen explains, "We are playing with the idea of what contemporary Egypt would look like if it still had Pharaohs and worshipped the god Anubis."
One of the starting points for the production is the conflict between the East and West, still apparent today. "Julius Caesar is like a desert solider off to conquer the East, while Cornelia plays a cold Washington-like political game. Meanwhile their adversaries, the sexy Cleopatra and her power-hungry psychopath of a little brother Tolomeo, struggle for dominion of Egypt."
The visualization of Giulio Cesare is exceptionally modern in that there are no explicit set pieces. Instead, the production setting is executed entirely with innovative lighting techniques. The lighting in question was designed by Patrick Woodroffe, one of the most famous lighting designers of our era, having previously worked with such illustrious names as the Rolling Stones, ABBA, Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan. Woodroffe's earlier work on opera productions includes Gounod's Roméo et Juliette for the Wiener Staatsoper in 2001 and Verdi's Il Trovatore for the Bregenz Festival in 2005.
The production's costume design is also a bold mix of contemporary, Baroque and fantasy. Kalle Kuusela, founder of his own KoneHELSINKI clothing brand, was responsible for the production's prop and costume design.
The role of Cleopatra will be sung by guest performers Claire Meghnagi and Christina Raphaëlle Haldane, with Katarina Leoson and Katariina Heikkilä appearing as Cornelia. The part of Tolomeo is sung by contratenors Alon Harari and Teppo Lampela, Sesto by Melis Jaatinen and Niina Keitel, and Achilla by Jussi Merikanto and Riku Pelo.