Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

19 Nov 2004

Handel's Semele at the ENO

Semele Robert Thicknesse at the Coliseum [Times Online, 20 November 2004] IT HAS to be the Prince of Wales's favourite opera. "Nature to each allots his proper sphere," avers Congreve's coolly brilliant libretto, and proceeds to itemise the results of...

Semele

Robert Thicknesse at the Coliseum [Times Online, 20 November 2004]

IT HAS to be the Prince of Wales's favourite opera. "Nature to each allots his proper sphere," avers Congreve's coolly brilliant libretto, and proceeds to itemise the results of getting above your station. (True, it also warns royals to be careful whom they sleep with.) This tale of Jupiter's incendiary affair with mortal Semele is a satire on celebrity, ambition and vanity that might have been written for the Big Brother generation.

And English National Opera's revival of Robert Carsen's production does it justice of a modern kind: gorgeous to look at and listen to, it is also rather shallow, a romp rather than a morality tale. It reserves its disapproval more for the drunken toffs who celebrate the birth of Bacchus from his mother's ashes (an entertainingly profane moment, welcoming this jovial son of god in a "Lenten oratorio") than for the "vain wretched fool" Semele, whose destruction is so easily fixed by Juno.

We are in a 1950s milieu of upper-crust debauchees in frocks to make the ladies gag with envy. The updating is more for visual effect than dramatic relevance, and it works wonderfully with its stark side-lighting, blessed use of the huge open stage and a welldirected chorus keeping things ticking over. And as well as beautiful images (Semele lying in bed in Heaven with Earth shining through the window, seen through a gauzy curtain) it is full of sight gags, character comedy and a theatrical intelligence to match the authors'.

Carolyn Sampson sings poor, silly Semele with beguiling facility, style and beauty, adding her own roulades to Handel's already extreme demands, pinpointing every note of the coloratura and doing it all with liquefying sexiness: slinking on to sing "Endless pleasure, endless love" as breathily as Marilyn cooing happy birthday to JFK, coyly baring all before slipping back into Jupiter's boudoir, tossing off an outburst of joyous vanity, hyperventing the hysteria of the mistress who's got above herself. This is a great performance.

It is well matched: Ian Bostridge's Jupiter gradually unbends to deliver the sweetest soft legato, Patricia Bardon's Juno is hilariously fiery as the (literally) queenly betrayed wife, and Janis Kelly camps Iris up something terrible.

After a languid start, Laurence Cummings, conducting, brings real Handelian sensibility and drama to the orchestra, and the chorus has a fine time undressing, drinking and indulging in some of Handel's loveliest music. A top evening, ENO right back on form, and the audience too.

Cast information:

Semele — Carolyn Sampson
Jupiter — Ian Bostridge
Ino — Anne-Marie Gibbons
Juno — Patricia Bardon
Athamas — Robin Blaze
Somnus — Graeme Danby
Cadmus — Iain Paterson
Iris — Janis Kelly

Click here for a synopsis of the opera.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):