Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art Performs Julius Caesar in Egypt

Courtesy of Neil Kavanaugh

By Neil Kavanaugh

This past weekend the Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art performed Julius Caesar in Egypt, an opera spanning from Caesar and Cleopatra’s first meeting to their marriage. The opera took place in the Hartke Theatre and was in Italian, backed by an extremely talented orchestra.

The opera tells the story of Caesar’s adventure in Egypt. Caesar arrived just as Tolomeo was planning on usurping his sister Cleopatra. Tolomeo was responsible for the death of Pompey, Cornelia’s husband and Sesto’s father. Cornelia and Sesto worked with Caesar and Cleopatra to fight back against Tolomeo. The heroes survived Tolomeo’s attempts to kill them, and Sesto was able to kill Tolomeo and avenge his father. The opera ends with Caesar placing Cleopatra on the throne in a romantic conclusion.

The roles were split between days, the two sets of actors either appeared Thursday and Saturday or Friday and Sunday. The Thursday/Saturday cast featured John Gibney as Caesar, Sophia Anastasi as Sesto, Sujin Kim as Cleopatra, and Joris Valkenberg as Tolomeo.

This opera was very well staged and expertly performed. All of the cast member’s costumes were historically accurate and their Italian was well articulated. The set was beautiful, featuring moving Roman pillars and ornate thrones; the lighting was also excellent, conveying a very convincing nighttime scene while still being able to see the actors. The score was the hidden glue in the opera, adding a dramatic background to the actor’s thoughts and desires.

Gibney, who was the lead actor, played a very convincing Caesar. He possesses an impeccable range which was prominent in his arias, which are long accompanied songs for solo voices. His ability to sustain musical phrases made the opera all the more impressive.

Anastasi played the role of Sesto and her portrayal was true to this male character. She was so convincing that if I had not known that she was a woman, I would have believed that the school had enlisted the help of a 10-year-old boy. Anastasi portrayed her character with such depth and emotion that audience members could not help but become invested in Sesto’s plight.

Kim was what made the opera. She had a beautiful voice and her superb acting captured the aloofness of Cleopatra without making her too reliant or tied to any male characters until the very end.

Valkenberg made his character the villain that you love to hate. He captured the audience’s disdain and ran with it. Valkenberg also had the best aria of the night, “L’empio, sleale,” with a note at the end that was held for what seemed like a minute.  

“My favorite character was Tolomeo when played by Joris on Thursday and Saturday night,” said Cecilia Leskowicz, a junior flute performance major who was in the orchestra. “Tolomeo is supposed to be this spoiled boy-king who throws temper tantrums whenever things don’t go his way, and Joris pulled the part off hilariously.” The audience was very select and gave the actors a standing ovation when the curtain was finally drawn. Friends and family waited outside to congratulate the actors on an amazing performance, which was well deserved. Julius Caesar in Egypt is not a very well known opera, but it was a refreshing choice for a collegiate production.

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