Michael Tanner

Slaughter of a masterpiece

I read an interview last week with David McVicar, director of Glyndebourne’s new production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare, in which he stated that he is ‘very intense’. For the span of this production, he seems to have been seized by a ‘very intense’ fit of the giggles, which has led him to a quite hateful betrayal, of the most comprehensive kind, and with no avenue left unexplored, of this great opera. McVicar, who has shown himself intermittently to be a producer of genius, on this occasion has exercised his talent for gauging exactly what his audience wants, and giving it to them with compound interest. I have never known a Glyndebourne audience, or for that matter any other, erupt with such ferocious applause, on their feet during the closing bars, positively screaming their enthusiasm for the camp slaughter of a masterpiece.

Handel’s operas at their finest manifest a shrewd and unillusioned awareness of the complexities of human nature, and though he has heroes and villains, indeed is eager to celebrate heroism and expose perfidy, his maturest creations show that he is as amused by pretension and self-importance as he is pained by weakness and venality. Nor does he think that people who perform heroic actions in one area are exempt from serious failings in other areas. Given the rigid conventions in which his operas are encased, the freedom with which, at their greatest, they portray human nature in its complexity and contradictions makes them one of the glories of the Augustan age. And among these masterly creations none is more secure in its place than Giulio Cesare.

A good thing, too, for otherwise a production such as McVicar’s could be a torpedo. He has decided that the work is primarily a vehicle for well-practised comic routines, with the odd bit of heavy relief to ensure that three and a half hours of gags don’t become wearisome.

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