Prompted by a discussion with Michael Anthonio about San Francisco’s Cleo-centric summer, Trove Thursday offers a pair of pirate recordings featuring “bosom buddies” Carol Vaness and Kathleen Battle as the Egyptian Queen: the former in Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra opposite Louis Otey, the latter seducing Tatiana Troyanos in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, plus a bonus third American—Christine Goerke—dipping into mezzo territory last month with Berlioz’s La Mort de Cléopâtre.

Michael reviewed West Edge Opera recent shortened version of Handel’s most famous opera seria,  while next month San Francisco Opera opens its centennial season with the world premiere of John Adams’s Antony and Cleopatra.

Given his previous operas, an Adams Shakespeare adaptation may seem unexpected but perhaps he was motivated to compose it as a vehicle for Julia Bullock and Gerald Finley who starred in The Girls of the Golden West and Dr. Atomic respectively. However, a pregnant Bullock has withdrawn replaced by Amina Edris. The Met is listed as one of the production’s co-sponsors, so it’s possible we might eventually see it here—with Bullock and Finley.

Comparisons will surely surface between the new Adams piece and another work by a leading American composer also commissioned for an important occasion: Samuel Barber’s controversial A&C which opened the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in 1966.

Vaness, who performs the Barber heroine on today’s recording, also sang Handel’s Cleopatra in San Francisco in English in 1978. The Met’s premiere production of Giulio Cesare opened a decade later and was never broadcast. The baroque specialist Trevor Pinnock, a novice opera conductor, reportedly didn’t have an easy time of it, particularly with his often-difficult lead soprano.

I attended one of the later performances and enjoyed it knowing what to expect as I was familiar with the edition Charles Mackerras had prepared for Valerie Masterson and Janet Baker for John Copley’s production (which the Met also imported) at the English National Opera. For a comparison, a broadcast from the first ENO Cesare season with Masterson and Baker can be heard here.

The Detroit Opera will be presenting Verdi’s Aïda in concert in December featuring Angel Blue’s first Aïda and Goerke’s first Amneris.

The Berlioz Cléopâtre, though taken on occasionally by sopranos like Gwyneth Jones and Anna Caterina Antonacci (who probably wasn’t really a soprano), has consistently been a specialty of mezzos from Jennie Tourel and Janet Baker to Olga Borodina and Joyce Di Donato. Trove Thursday previously posted the great Berlioz scena with Troyanos. Will Goerke continue what appears to be a transition to a new and lower repertoire?

Barber: Antony and Cleopatra

Cleopatra: Carol Vaness
Charmian: Margaret Thompson
Iras: Elizabeth Batton
Antony: Louis Otey
Caesar: Neil Rosenshein
Enorbabus: Arthur Woodley
Agrippa/Alexas/Soldier: Matthew Burns
Dolabella: Peter Couchman
Guards: Jonathan Goodman, Matthew Burns, Richard Lippold, & Andrew Marens
Thidias/Maecenas/Soldier: Richard Lippold
Eros/Messenger/Senator: James Archie Worley
Soldier of Caesar/Guard: Douglas Purcell
Rustic: Mark Rehnstrom

New York Concert Singers
American Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Stephen Sloane

Carnegie Hall
6 April 2003
In-house recording

Handel: Giulio Cesare

Cleopatra: Kathleen Battle
Cornelia: Sarah Walker
Giulio Cesare: Tatiana Troyanos
Sesto: Martine Dupuy
Tolomeo: Jeffrey Gall
Achilla: Julien Robbins
Curio: Erich Parce
Nireno: Derek Lee Ragin

Conductor: Trevor Pinnock

Metropolitan Opera
27 September 1988
In-house recording

Berlioz: La Mort de Cléopâtre 

Christine Goerke

Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra

Conductor: Andris Nelsons

Tanglewood Festival
23 July 2022

Antony and Cleopatra, Giulio Cesare and La Mort de Cléopâtre can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a loud with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 files will appear in your download directory.

In addition, nearly 600 other podcast tracks are always available from Apple Podcasts for free, or via any RSS reader. An archive which lists all Trove Thursday offerings in alphabetical order by composer has recently been updated.