Opera in brief: Musica Viva’s abridged Giulio Cesare

Valentina Tao as Cleoptra Valentina Tao as Cleoptra

In a pair of school-day matinees on 25 and 27 May, Hong Kong’s Musica Viva—back in the operatic saddle as local Covid restrictions ease—presented an abridged version George Frideric Handel’s baroque masterpiece Giulio Cesare.

Based (somewhat loosely) on events of the Roman Civil War of the fifth decade BC and set in the twilight of pharaonic Egypt and featuring the glamorous pair of media celebrities the eponymous Julius Caesar and his future consort Cleopatra, this was nevertheless a somewhat ambitious choice for performances targeted at secondary school students, but one was made more appealing that it might have otherwise been by reducing the work to what might be called the “highlights” connected with animated narrative from local actor William Lam decked out as Plutarch.

Valentina Tao was the star of the afternoon: she shone (and decked out in Pharaonic bling, literally sparkled) as Cleopatra. Tao’s very attractive soprano displayed once again the vocal promise showed in previous outings.

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Michael Lam was (a baritone) Cesare, Christy Li was Pompey’s widow Cornelia, Dennis Lau her son Sesto; Franky Fung was Achilla, while Marcus Choy (alternating with Terry Lee) had a (for Hong Kong) rare countertenor outing as Tolomeo (better known to English audiences as Ptolemy, Cleopatra’s brother).


Peter Gordon is editor of the Asian Review of Books.