GIULIO CESARE IN EGITTO by Antonio Sartorio, directed by Tom Diamond, conducted by Gary Thor Wedow, with Krisztina Szab, Roger Honeywell, Colleen Skull, Shannon Mercer, David Pomeroy, Olivier Laquerre, Peter Collins, Andrea Ludwig and John Kriter. Presented by the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble at the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre. December 3-9. $45. Rating: NNN
cleopatra seduces more than Julius Caesar in the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble's Giulio Cesare In Egitto, by the all but unknown baroque composer Antonio Sartorio. Handel used a variation of the same libretto some 70 years later -- and the COC stages that more famous work next spring -- but there are plenty of musical gifts in Sartorio's score.Filled with plots and counterplots, motivated by love or the desire for power or both, the story follows Caesar's pursuit of his enemy Pompey, and Cleopatra's subsequent conquest of Caesar. The women are the overall victors in this production. Krisztina Szabó's Cleopatra is both vocally and dramatically commanding, and Shannon Mercer is a sweet-voiced pleasure as Pompey's son Sesto. The secondary male roles, played by David Pomeroy, Olivier Laquerre and Peter Collins, are sung well enough but not made dramatic, with the exception of Pomeroy's oily Tolomeo, Cleopatra's scheming brother. John Kriter's one-note drag maid soon becomes tiresome.
But it's Roger Honeywell who, despite having the right look for Caesar, really lets the forces down. Pushing his voice almost to the point of shouting, he's hoarse by the end and never holds the stage. Honeywell isn't helped by director Tom Diamond. His previous productions of baroque operas worked, but here he adds too much business, and these distractions get in the way of the music. Trust the composer or don't do the production.