Some, like Handel’s librettist for Messiah, Charles Jennens, were scandalised by the overtly sexual context. But what was the composer to do with the story of a mortal princess seduced by the mighty Jupiter? Nevertheless he hastily toned down some of the racier sections. The 21st-century audience is not so easily shocked, and the new production of Semele at Garsington Opera this summer is the best of news.
In the title role as the gullible Semele is the American soprano Heidi Stober. The British tenor Robert Murray, who also appears in English National Opera’s Partenope this year, sings the role of Jupiter.
Christine Rice is the jealous goddess Juno, who exacts her revenge by encouraging her earthly love rival to ask to see Jupiter in his godly form. But so dazzling is he, that poor Semele shrivels to ash, only her unborn child Bacchus surviving as her hedonistic heir.
The opera is famous for the aria “Where’er you walk”, and for the hilariously sleepy character Somnus (David Soar), who has to sing one of the lowest notes in the operatic repertoire, as he plunges back into unconsciousness.
Jonathan Cohen conducts the Garsington Opera Orchestra and Chorus, and design is by Nicky Shaw.
Semele is directed by Belfast-born Annilese Miskimmon, the new artistic director of Norwegian National Opera, who has previously directed Il Re Pastore at Garsington, and whose many productions for Opera Holland Park include Verdi’s Falstaff and Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta.
General public booking opens on 28 March.
Click here for details of membership with priority booking from 28 Feb.
|What||Semele, Garsington Opera|
|Where||Garsington Opera, Wormsley Estate , Stokenchurch, HP14 3YG | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Marylebone (underground)|
01 Jun 17 – 04 Jul 17, Times vary; 7 performances, running time c 4hr 30min, including dinner interval
|Price||£35 - £200|
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|