If you go to the Michigan Opera's new production of Handel's Julius Caesar, do not expect to see togas and laurel wreaths. Instead, you will see army tanks, as well as sets, costumes and characters who will make you think of 1930s Hollywood.
The modern interpretation of the work is ironic, as it is the company's first staging of a Baroque opera. It may take some audience members a few minutes to fully engage in the interpretation; best to prepare one's head and expectations.
Achieving the look and feel of an MGM musical has the potential, certainly, of making the material more accessible. The approach works nicely, brought to life by counter-tenor David Daniels in the title role and soprano Lisette Oropesa as Cleopatra, vamping around the stage in full Jean-Harlow-Marylin Monroe platinum bloom.
Daniels vocals are at times mesmerizing as his falsetto is bright, clear and bouncy. Oropesa is sexy and delightful, and delivers on the big staging throughout the performance. It really is a unique experience for an opera seldom staged. It's hard to imagine that companies will stage or interpret it any other way for some years.
Indeed, this is not the first such staging of Julius Caesar. The costumes for this production borrowed from a 2003 Houston Grand Opera production. The informality of the characters was an engaging touch. At the finale, several reclined in theater seats that had been brought out.
Countertenor Anthony Roth Constanzo as Cleopatra's nasty-piece-of-work brother brought a strong voice and performance to bear. Soprano Emily Fons, playing a boy role, enlivened the stage whenever she was on it.
To hear such performances by counter-tenors is worth the price of the ticket, but the unique staging and lovely, soaring sopranos rounds out a delightful night at the opera.
Watch this video with Anthony Roth Costanzo talking about countertenors and the production.
Additional performances are November 14, 16, 17 and 18th.