I began rehearsals for Handel's Giulio Cesare at Opera North in November 2011, one week after the completion of English National Opera’s production of 'The Marriage of Figaro'. I had originally been engaged to cover the role of Sesto in the production and was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to perform in the principal role. It was certainly a great transition from my role as Mozart’s cheeky Cherubino into Handel’s serious character of Sesto – a young boy to a young man.
The experienced cast, crew and team at Opera North were wonderful to work with. Under the direction of Tim Albery and the musical guidance of Conductor Robert Howarth the production made great progress and I learned so much. I loved exploring the musical style and the dramatic journey of Sesto through his will to avenge the perpetrators of his father’s murder . The set and costume for the production were designed by Leslie Travers and in the first week we gained a great insight into the production plans through a model showing and talk with Tim Albery. It was really exciting to learn about the ideas for each character and to see Sesto’s military style costume for the first time.
There is a great blog by Technical Manager Peter Restall on the design of Giulio Cesare which gives a real insight into the set,
“The main set represents Egypt; it is a pyramid box that is annexed by tall Roman concrete walls. The Romans invented concrete and their civilisation was very structured, in contrast to the decadence and corruption of the Egyptians, inhabiting this gold inlaid pyramid. The pyramid was based on a jewel box seen at the British Museum, and interpreted here as one that is breaking down and rotting, reflecting elements of their society. The movement and rotation of the set by ‘slaves’ also allows for the opera to flow fluidly from one scene to the next: it opens up, reveals a warren of passageways and beautiful gold, mirrored walls and floors.”
We were able to utilise the set throughout rehearsals and get to grips with sliding doors and steps. We had a wonderful team of people moving the heavy structure of the set from one scene to the next which made for magical transitions. This was my first time working on a production that would be going on tour and it was really interesting to see how this would be taken into consideration throughout all of the staging. It was a real pleasure to be a part of such a lovely cast and when I wasn’t needed on stage it was such a treat to watch the drama unfold and listen to the beautiful music.
Our sitzprobe rehearsals commenced in January and following this we continued rehearsals on The Grand Theatre stage - I had made sure that I didn’t overdo the Christmas festivities in order that I would still fit into Sesto’s uniform! As soon as rehearsals began in costume it was great to see how the character would look and the wig was a wonderful addition to becoming Sesto!
We had five wonderful evenings of Guilio Cesare in The Grand Theatre in Leeds before going on tour with the production. The theatre was built in 1878 in a backlash to the music hall tradition. With 1,500+ seats over five levels, it is one of the most beautiful theatres in Britain. It was such a pleasure to perform there to full houses and to very enthusiastic audiences - I take away such fond memories from having made my debut with Opera North in the role of Sesto and a big thank you to everyone who made it such an amazing experience.