La Compagnie Baroque Mont-Royal to Present SEMELE, 4/5-6
La Compagnie Baroque Mont-Royal (CBMR) will present Handel's opera Semele, in the magnificent yet intimate setting of Victoria Hall in Westmount, on April 5 and 6. This production features five soloists, a chamber orchestra and a chorus, under the musical direction of harpsichordist Susan Toman and the stage direction of Jon David.
Created in 1744 and rediscovered in the 20th century, Semele is one of Handel's last masterpieces. The work is based on an adaptation of a libretto credited to William Congreve and inspired by The Metamorphoses by Ovid. A richly hybrid opus, its mythological and amorous intrigue is in line with operatic tradition, yet the presence of a chorus and the use of the English language make it closer to an oratorio. Tragedy and comedy coexist while the music blends sensuality and extreme virtuosity.
Musical Director Susan Toman is drawn to Semele because of the number of terrific arias all packed into one opera, "Instead of only 3 or 4 truly catchy arias, this opera has at least 12 arias that are captivating, memorable and uplifting... the kind of tunes that get stuck in your head for days afterwards. Because of this, the musical direction is especially fun and rewarding!"
The central theme, Jupiter's love for Semele and Juno's vengeful jealousy, is of relevance for a contemporary audience. According to David Menzies, CBMR co-artistic director (along with Susan Toman) and singing the role of Jupiter, "Semele is extremely ambitious but she goes about everything wrong, in a sense stepping on everyone else's toes. I think the lesson is to aim high but don't forget to count your blessings along the way." The narcissistic figure of Semele particularly evokes the vagaries of the star system; 'Myself I shall adore' is the aria sung by the heroine, a complex character. Ambitious and in love, at once naïve and manipulative, she will do whatever it takes to reach immortality and will fall prey to her rival's traps. Menzies continues, "The god Jupiter is much more human in Handel's treatment. He is genuinely distressed at Semele's failure to comprehend that he cannot give her immortality without seriously injuring or even killing her. Handel has written beautiful arias including 'Where'er you walk' and arias that have complex coloratura."