I’ve never been much into Opera, but watching the video production of Giulio Cesare, an Opera by Georg Friderick Handel, changed all that. And what really sold me on the whole thing was Danielle de Niese, who is of Sri Lankan origin. Playing the demanding role of Cleopatra in David McVicar’s directorial masterpiece, Danielle blew a lot of folk away with her charismatic and brilliant performance at Glyndebourne in 2005 and garnered rave reviews in the process. Since then she has repeated the performance in Glyndebourne in 2006 and also at the Lyric Opera of Chicago this year.

David McVicar’s Giulio Cesare is an Opera with a difference, in that it is not the ‘classical’ production that can be torturous as, for one thing, if one doesn’t understand the language – usually Italian – and if the story itself is not all that clear, the usually ponderous plot development can be a major mystery and a crushing bore. Programme notes help, but not too terribly much in deciphering the details and appreciating the minutiae. McVicar, however, infuses his production with all manner of facets, usually alien to classical Opera. He has, for instance, combined Bollywood dance movements in some of the sequences and the humorous element is never far away. He has been known to be a director of Opera ‘with a difference’ and I’m waiting for a chance to watch more of his productions. And, of course, the advantage of watching on video is that the subtitles make everything that much clearer – although a second viewing does help to appreciate everything more fully.

But back to Danielle: A combination of beauty with an abundance of talent, Danielle sings brilliantly and dances equally well. Her acting is spot on and her interpretation of the role has a certain element of ‘cheekiness’ to it that is irresistable. She has also appeared in a small role in Hannibal the movie, starring Anthony Hopkins.

Here’s a short extract from Wikipedia on her: Danielle de Niese (b. 1980) is an Australian-born soprano now residing in the United States, of Sri Lankan and Dutch heritage.
After winning a number of singing competitions at an early age in her native Australia, de Niese moved with her family to Los Angeles where she made her professional operatic debut at the age of 15 with Los Angeles Opera. She became the youngest singer ever to participate in the Young Artists Studio at the Metropolitan Opera, where she debuted at the age of 19 as Barbarina in a new production of Le Nozze di Figaro directed by Jonathan Miller and conducted by James Levine. She was subsequently asked to perform the title role in the Met’s production of Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges.
De Niese’s still growing career has ranged through early Baroque music (Poppea in L’incoronazione di Poppea), via Handel, Mozart and contemporary opera premieres[citation needed] at major opera houses around the world, to Broadway (Les Misérables) and film (the 2001 Hannibal movie) roles.
She has recently appeared in productions of a number of baroque operas on stage and on DVD, for example the Les Arts Florissants production of Les Indes Galantes by Jean-Philippe Rameau, and as Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare, directed by David McVicar, at Glyndebourne in 2005 and 2006, and in the same production at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2007.
At the end of 2006, when the Nederlandse Opera staged the three Mozart/Da Ponte operas directed by Ingo Metzmacher, de Niese sang Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro and Despina in Cosi fan tutte.
She has signed an exclusive recording deal with the Decca Music Group . Her debut album, with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, is entitled Handel Arias.

The video, for those of you interested, is a ‘3 DVD set’ and is put out by Opus Arts and also contains ‘..an informal portrait of Danielle de Niese in her first Glyndebourne season’. The few of you I know who are interested in theatre, music, song and dance of high quality will find this a visual and audial treat, for others of who I may not be aware, check this opera out – or any other performance by Danielle – guaranteed to satisfy – or even knock you out.

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