Opera in brief: “Giulio Cesare” at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts

Giulio Cesare

While perhaps not immediately obvious, the appeal of George Frideric Handel’s Giulio Cesare as an Academy production becomes clear once the production is underway. The baroque opera (it dates from 1724) has a large number of principals—six have solos—and it allows the Academy to make full use of its talented counter-tenor Rambo So Ki-hin, who sang the title role. Anna Zhang, recently seen as Musetta in Opera Hong Kong’s La bohème, sang and acted an opening-night Cleopatra that was alternately headstrong and slinky.

The opera was, perhaps wisely, performed in vaguely 21st-century dress: combat fatigues, military uniforms, sequined cocktail dresses, mobile phones deployed taking selfies. The clever staging had only the vaguest of Egyptian references, looking more like the lobby of a Cairo hotel than an Ptolemaic palace. Giulio Cesare isn’t normally thought of as a comedy, but certain sections were here played for laughs.

The story itself was largely left alone, however, without any immediately evident attempt to infer contemporary relevance. Some crept in, however, despite the visual resemblance to certain unsavoury characters of recent Middle Eastern history being presumably coincidental. The modern dress gave Cesare’s interference in Egypt’s political arrangements as well as the protestations of Cornelia, Pompeo’s widow, that she—as a Roman—couldn’t possible consider a relationship with an Egyptian, a distinctly colonial vibe.


Giulio Cesare runs at the APA through 31 March.

Peter Gordon is editor of the Asian Review of Books.