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This week is all about Handel.
I love how Beethoven talked of Handel’s works: “Go to him to learn how to achieve great effects, by such simple means.” 😌 I think it’s fair to say that Handel won the gold medal in the Olympic games of the Baroque period (which lasted from about 1600 to 1750). Handel was the leading composer of opera during the Baroque period, and you will see why after listening to this masterpiece. Out of the thousands of operas that were known to have been written in the Baroque period, only a small percentage survived. Handel’s music is considered to be among the most demanding music in the operatic repertoire for any voice type, particularly for sopranos. Rhythmic, spirited, energizing, exuberant. These are the words that come to mind when I listen to this piece by Handel.
Today we’re listening to Beverly Sills sing Cleopatra’s aria “Da tempeste il legno infranto” from Act III of the Italian opera Giulio Cesare by George Frideric Handel.
Brooklyn-born Sills, also known as “Bubbles” (nicknamed that at birth because her mother said she came out of the womb with bubbles in her mouth 👼🏻), had a silvery, rich, and colorful voice. After you listen to Sills sing Cleopatra, you understand why it was with this role that her career was really shot out of a cannon. This is one of the best Cleopatras I’ve ever heard. She makes it all sound so effortless.
I always had a theory that people became a superstar because they could do one thing better than anybody else in the world.
🎧 Listen here (5 minute listen):
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Giulio Cesare (Italian for Julius Caesar) is based on events of the Roman Civil War 49–45 BC. At the opera’s opening, Cesare discovers that his rival Pompeo has been killed by the King, Tolomeo. While Pompeo’s widow Cornelia deals with his death and his son Sesto plans his vengeance, Cleopatra decides to seduce Cesare to get his support and ultimately, gain power. However, as events unfold, Cleopatra and Cesare realize that they have fallen in love!
In this aria Cleopatra learns that Caesar has not been killed in battle, as she was told. In this piece, she compares her heart to a ship — risking shipwreck, storm-battered — that finally arrives safe in port and finds comfort. She is happy!
When the ship, broken by storms,
Succeeds at last in making it to port, it no longer knows what it desires.
However, the heart, after torments and woes, once it recovers,
is beside itself with bliss.
Still interested? Want more?
Giulio Cesare premiered at the King’s Theatre in London in 1724. The opening run was a hit, and today, it is one of, if not the, most frequently performed Handel operas.
If you are looking for a full recording of Giulio Cesare , I would recommend the RCA Victor Opera Series from 1967 with Beverly Sills, Beverly Wolff, Norman Treigle, and Maureen Forrester conducted by Julius Rudel. The performance is not on period instruments or according to the strict Baroque performance practices but it is wonderful. A classic.
Born Belle Miriam Silverman, Beverly Sills was a remarkable coloratura soprano and a strong advocate for the arts. After retiring from performing at 51 (1980), she went on to be an arts administrator, taking on the role of director of the New York City Opera and chairwoman of Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera.
Below is a live recording of Beverly Sills singing the aria at New York City Opera. Effortless!
Thank you again for listening and for coming along on this journey so far,
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The City Opera lucked out with the International press dismayed by The Met fiasco of Samuel Barber's opera ANTONY & CLEOPATRA but thrilled by Handel. Sills commandeered the role over Phyllis Curtain. Norman Treigle was supposed to be the star but Sills got most of the press.
Love this part of a comment that came in this morning to me via email:
"Nobody ever gave more of herself than Sills. She would try anything both vocally or dramatically to please her audience. And always with a smile! She never ceased to thrill me even when she didn’t quite get there so to speak... I miss Bubbles very much. “