The three countertenors

Handel’s Giulio Cesare presents an interesting casting challenge.  The piece has four high voiced male roles; Cesare, Nireno, Tolomeo and Sesto.  The original production featured three castrati and a soprano en travesti.  I have never seen Sesto cast as other than a trouser role and Nireno and Tolomeo are invariably sung by countertenors.  Cesare himself though seems mostly to go to low mezzo/contralto types.  Indeed it’s seen, I think, as something of a “plum” trouser role.  (Which is interesting as in the production that i will get to describing in a minute, Cesare wears plum trousers).  I’ve seen both Ewa Podleś and Sarah Connolly in the role.  For their 2005 production Royal Danish Opera cast Andreas Scholl as Cesare.  It’s a good choice.  He’s a masculine looking and sounding counter tenor and at least he is taller than his Cleopatra.  It also makes for an interesting set of countertenors.  Tolomeo is sung by the much less masculine Christopher Robson and Nireno by the “more a male soprano than a countertenor” Michael Maniaci.  Sesto goes, conventionally enough, to Tuva Semmingsen, who seems very much to specialize in these types of role.  Apart from the countertenors the piece was cast from the considerable resources of the RDO ensemble with Inger Dam-Jensen as Cleopatra, Randi Stene as Cornelia, John Lundgren as Curio and Palle Knudsen as Achilla.

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