Grand date for Handel’s fine opera

Dutch soprano Annemarie Kremer in Opera North's Norma
Dutch soprano Annemarie Kremer in Opera North's Norma

OPERA North’s winter season gets underway at the Grand Theatre in Leeds this Saturday with a new production, directed by Tim Albery, of Handel’s Giulio Cesare – Julius Caesar, one of his finest operas.

The work’s full title is more specific, Julius Caesar in Egypt, where he is in pursuit of (king) Pompey but who has been murdered and usurped by Tolomeo. He fancies Pompey’s widow Cornelia (not a mutual attraction) who is defended by her son Sesto.

Tolomeo’s sister Cleopatra, meanwhile, attempts to charm Caesar into helping her to overthrow her brother. Pamela Helen Stephen (Caesar), Sarah Tynan (Cleopatra – super arias!), countertenor James Laing (Tolomeo), Ann Taylor (Cornelia) and Kathryn Rudge (Sesto) looks like a strong line up of principal singers and Baroque specialist Robert Howarth is the conductor.

An extremely strong trio of singers (with two sopranos as originally intended) has been assembled for the love triangle in Bellini’s superb opera Norma, also a new production and opening on January 28.

Norma, a Druid high priestess, has secretly borne two children to the proconsul of the enemy forces of Rome, Pollione. He, however, has now set his sights on the young priestess Adalgisa who seeks the advice of her friend Norma, already suspicious that there is another woman, on what to do – oops!

Christopher Alden directs the production, doubtless with his own slant on the scenario, while Dutch soprano Annemarie Kremer (Norma), American soprano Keri Alkema (Adalgisa) and Mexican tenor Luis Chapa (Pollione) are the highly impressive-looking principal cast members.

Oliver von Dohnányi is the conductor and both operas are sung in Italian, as are further performances of the company’s Madama Butterfly revival in February.