Students Conquer the Stage in ‘Giulio Cesare’
SFCM’s Historical Performance program presents, “Giulio Cesare” where students are making their own choices in character staging and interpretation on April 9, 10.
By Mark Taylor
The power of love and the love of power. That’s what is at the heart of “Giulio Cesare”. First performed in 1724 the opera composed by George Frideric Handel is loosely based on historic events during the Roman Civil War of 49–45 BC. Julius Caesar arrives in Egypt where he meets Cleopatra and her brother who are joint sovereigns, turmoil and drama ensue.
While the plot details are fictional, the people were real, and that went into character development, especially for Kyle Tingzon ‘22, who is portraying the titular role in one of two performances. “Before looking at the opera itself, I started by doing research and reading up on the life of Julius Caesar. This is important to me so that I will be able to embody his physicality on stage and understand his place in the opera.” Tingzon is studying voice with SFCM professor César Ulloa.
Lindsay Martin ‘22 is also taking on the role of Caesar, which provided voice challenges for both singers, “This role started out a little tricky because it was originally composed for a male castrato. As such, the Fach is a little lower than the mezzo-soprano repertoire I'm used to,” Martin said. Working on her vocal ability to suit the role helped her heighten skills, “This role has helped my voice to grow and expand to do things that at the beginning of the process I didn’t think were possible. It has been a rewarding vocal journey,” she added. Martin is studying voice under instructor Catherine Cook.
The opera may be named for the Roman leader, but Handel’s Cleopatra is a particularly complex character. During the opera she has six arias, each one written to display a different facet of her personality including coquettishness, power, vulnerability, grief, and joy. Voice students Chea Kang ‘23 and Taylor See ‘23 embody the role each night. “It is definitely challenging to show both of her powerful side and her moments of vulnerability, but what an honor to have a chance to be such a charismatic historical figure on stage,” Kang said of the character.
Echoing the challenge Taylor See started her creative process by understanding the character and her changes, “Cleopatra experiences a lot of development as a person throughout the opera, and she goes through a range of emotions from great strength and power to total sadness and desperation,” See said. Graduate students Kang and See are both studying voice under professor César Ulloa.
Students have been working on this upcoming performance since the beginning of the school year. The piece will also be performed entirely on period instruments with Baroque Ensemble members. “We have a long history of performing these works at the school and have enjoyed mostly sold-out and wildly enthusiastic audiences,” said Corey Jamason, the chair of the Historical Performance program. “This is about coming back to the music and the pure drama of the opera,” Jamason continued, “I think it is a wonderful opportunity for audience members to fully experience the power of Handel's piece in its purest form.”
Unique for this production of “Giulio Cesare” is that the actors have staged the production themselves, “The singers had to bring in their own imaginations on stage. Therefore, it will be very interesting for the audience to notice how each singer shapes and presents their individual characters on stage,” said Chea Kang.
From the singers to the orchestra behind them, students hope to put on a performance audience members will not soon forget, “It will be a grand display of vocal acrobatics and fireworks from the singers, as well as superb, high-level playing from our student Baroque orchestra,” Kyle Tingzon continued, “It will be an exciting experience for our audiences as they discover how ideas of power and love come together in this production.”
Audiences are asked to reserve tickets for this free event. SFCM’s production of “Giulio Cesare” will be on Saturday, April 9, and Sunday, April 10, inside the Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, at the Ann Getty Center for Education.