"I saw this production at the English National Opera when it was new. I was only in my teens and fairly new to opera, but Janet Baker just blew me away. What an artiste! Her technique is virtually flawless and, considering that this is a live recording, her stamina is formidable. Valerie Masterton makes a wonderful Cleopatra and James Bowman and Sarah Walker make admirable contributions. If you like Handel, buy this recording."
Handel Would Have Been Pleased: A Great English Opera
Rudy Avila | Lennox, Ca United States | 08/01/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The English National Opera is well known for its English-sung versions of Italian operas and this recording of the Baroque masterpiece Julius Caesar stars Janet Baker, Valerie Masterson, John Tomlinson, Christopher Booth-Jones, James Bowman, David James, and Della Jones. Sir Charles Mackerras conducts. Recorded in the early 80's it seems, this studio recording is phenomenal, and though its not the original Italian work by Handel, it is still as dramatic and as musically satisfying. The ENO perfectly captures the same spirit of the original piece and technically, the music is brilliant, with passionate strings on fire in the dramatic scenes and laid back in spiritual and gentle lyricism in the slower arias and scenas. Now the immediate attraction to this recording is the great Janet Baker as the eponymous Julius Caesar. A brilliant mezzo-soprano, she famously took on the "male" roles not given to tenors - Aenas from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and Romeo in Bellini's Capuleti e Montechi are one of them. This comes from the tradition in modern times that the castrati roles of the Baroque Era (1600-1750)- which included all the juicy male leads - Ceasar, Nero, gods, warriors and the like - were subsequently given to contralto female singers or mezzo-sopranos. Janet Baker is sensational, really immersing herself in the role of Caesar, with real dramatic force and absolutely beautiful and fiery voice. These performances, which were staged in London, must have been sold out and understandably so. Janet Baker's performance is top-notch and unsurpassed, even if newer countertenors (who are male) have sung recent Caesars with success. They cannot equal what she delivers in this performance. For those who might want to know, this same performance is captured on DVD which is also available on Amazon.com and also stars the remarkable Valerie Masterson
The music remains true to the original score, with the English words matching the original Italian text word for word. In the hands of the lead singers Baker and Masterson, who have great chemistry together, this operatic performance ranks right up there with great performances, the kind that operaphiles continue to admire fondly. British soprano Valerie Masterson, more so than Janet Baker, sang in English version operas. She enjoyed immense success in the latter part of the 60's with the Doyle Carte Opera Company singing all the lead heroines in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. Furthermore, she sang as Gilda in Verdi's Rigoletto, Juliette in Gounod's Romeo et Juliette, Lucia Di Lammermoor and Violetta in Verdi's Traviata. Hers was a crystal, refined, lyric voice that had an impressive upper register and magical coloratura abilities. High F's, high C's, you name it. As Cleopatra, she is remarkably similar to Beverly Sills, who is hailed as the greatest interpreter of this role, winning overnight fame in a New York City Opera series of performances back in 1965-1966. Though not note for note the same as Sills, who had the best dramatic prowess, coloratura and pianissimi in the characterization of Cleopatra, Masterson went above and beyond herself as Cleopatra, providing a human warmth to the role, singing her as if she were a poor victim of historic fate. Get this recording if you're a fan of Janet Baker and Valerie Masterson. Truly this is a document of both artists at their very best."
Rustic recording with FABULOUS cast
Neil A. Dellar | 06/29/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Having been present at the rather giggly recording of the home video, I can attest to the awesome presence this recording supports. The translation is quirky and funny, and the artists RED HOT! Raucous chorus and coughs and general mediocrity of recording quality aside, this disc is sure to leave you with a warm feeling. Janet Baker is the highlight here, followed rather closely by James Bowman's small-ish role. An unique addition to your Handelian collection."
Very nicely done............
Sam | Seahurst, Washington | 11/13/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Dame Janet Baker is in glorious voice and draws on the widest range of expressive tone-colors, and Valerie Masterson makes a charming and seductive Cleopatra, fresh and girlish, though the voice is caught a little too brightly for caressing such radiant melodies as those for V'ador pupille and Piangero. Sarah Walker sings with powerful intensity as Pompey's widow; James Bowman is a characterful counter-tenor Ptolemy, and John Tomlinson a firm, resonant Achillas, the other nasty character. The ravishing accompaniments to the two big Cleopatra arias amply justify the use by the excellent ENO Orchestra of modern rather than period instruments. The full, vivid studio sound makes this one of the very finest of the invaluable serious of ENO opera recording in English, now being made avalable again by Chandos, sponsored by the Peter Moores Foundation."