Artist of the Week: Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen

American Countertenor Brings Acclaimed ‘Giulio Cesare’ to Glyndebourne

By Francisco Salazar
(Credit: Richard Hubert Smith)

Last week, the Glyndebourne Festival opened its 2024 production of “Giulio Cesare,” a revival of a production by David McVicar. The production features a cast of rising stars and baroque specialists. Among them are Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen who is returning to the festival after his successful debut in Händel’s “Semele.”

For his performances thus far he has received rave reviews, with critics stating, “The title role was superbly sung by countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, strong and stirring as man of action, tender and poignant as would-be lover.”

OperaWire did a short interview speaking about the role and how Cohen’s interpretation has developed over the years.

OperaWire: Tell me about performing this role at the Glyndebourne Festival.

Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen: This is the most meaningful operatic experience I could have ever dreamed of. This production was the first Händel opera I ever saw, back in 2013 when I was a student at Princeton University. When the curtain fell, ending Act 1, I was so gobsmacked that it took me a good five minutes to enter back into the real world and stand up. So began my deep love of Händel opera, and Händel‘s operas have since become a real specialty of mine. Now, this summer I am stepping into Caesar’s very large boots at Glyndebourne, as just the third person cast to play this legendary character in this iconic production, following two artistic heroes and mentors of mine. It is truly a dream-come-true, full-circle moment, and the whole experience has been a rewarding thrill beyond my wildest expectations.

OW: What have you learned from doing this role at the festival?

ANC: I have learned so much. We were fortunate to have Sir David McVicar himself at the helm of rehearsals every day for our six-week rehearsal period. One of the joys of Glyndebourne is the in-depth rehearsal process that every piece gets, no matter if it’s a revival or a new production, and working with Sir David – without a doubt the most brilliant director I’ve had the pleasure of working with – was transformative. Sir David has an in-depth understanding of and vision for every single word of recitative and every moment of every aria in this masterpiece, and finding my own interpretation of Caesar within this production’s vivid world has been so fulfilling. On the musical side of things, diving into this role with the brilliant Maestro Laurence Cummings has been so illuminating – painting with as wide a spectrum of colors as possible, finding more and more layers within Händel and Haym’s masterful score and fascinating portrayal of this legendary character – every day has been a pleasure!

OW: How has the role grown for you over the years?

ANC: Immeasurably! When I first performed this role, it was in concert in Moscow back in 2021, and we had a rapid-fire four-day rehearsal period to put this whole piece together. This summer is the first time I’m getting to truly delve deeply into this role. I find this Caesar so fascinating because we certainly get the power and force that we all associate with the character – in arias like “Empio, dirò, tu sei’,” “Va Tacito,” “Al Lampo dell’Armi” and “Quel Torrente.” But we also get to see him as a lover, a charmer and as someone being equally charmed by the beauty, wits, and allure of Cleopatra – in arias like “Se in fiorito” and “Mon e’ si vago e bello’”- and we get to see him be vulnerable and confront his own mortality in the aria “Aure, deh, per pieta” and the accompagnato “Alma del gran Pompeo.” There are so many layers to Caesar in this opera so I feel fortunate to get to perform the role in 15 performances this summer at Glyndebourne, following an in-depth six week rehearsal period. I am finding more and more depths to plumb every night.

OW: How do you think Cesare relates to today’s world?

ANC: An egomaniacal ruler whose emotions can turn on a dime, to whom loyalty is deeply valued, who is deeply vulnerable to a woman’s beauty and charm – sounds like someone whose presence in American politics sadly continues as strongly as ever, doesn’t it? This character and this opera are deeply relevant, exploring universal human emotions like passionate love, murder and death, jealousy between sibling politicians, and the hunger of a ruler who enters a foreign land to conquer its people and riches for his own gain. While this piece was written exactly 300 years ago about a story from 2,072 years ago, it is as relevant as ever. Sir David McVicar’s brilliant production also has so many elements that relate this old story to our modern day. He artfully combines the Roman and Egyptian world of the piece’s original setting with visual elements showing Britain’s colonial quest in India, subtly leading us to see how this piece and this story continue to be relevant. This piece and this production promise audiences an evening of extraordinary entertainment, exquisite music, moving emotions, and thought-provoking political drama – it is not to be missed!


For those interested in hearing more from Cohen, the countertenor has a recording of Händel’s “Saul” and Bach’s St John’s Passion.

Here he is performing from “Orlando” and “Giulio Cesare.”


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