Handel: Semele

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Stephen Eddins
The genre of "Semele" has always been somewhat ambiguous. Handel used an opera libretto by William Congreve for his text, but at its premiere he presented it as an oratorio. Its secular, dramatic story is certainly operatic, but its music includes stylistic elements of both Handel's English sacred oratorios and his Italian operas, so it's understandable why the original audiences didn't easily embrace the work, since it failed to fully satisfy the preferences of devotees of either genre. Audiences today aren't likely to be troubled by that issue, but more problematic are Congreve's distractingly mannered text and the morally queasy plot. Semele, an emotionally complex ...
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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Stephen Eddins
The genre of "Semele" has always been somewhat ambiguous. Handel used an opera libretto by William Congreve for his text, but at its premiere he presented it as an oratorio. Its secular, dramatic story is certainly operatic, but its music includes stylistic elements of both Handel's English sacred oratorios and his Italian operas, so it's understandable why the original audiences didn't easily embrace the work, since it failed to fully satisfy the preferences of devotees of either genre. Audiences today aren't likely to be troubled by that issue, but more problematic are Congreve's distractingly mannered text and the morally queasy plot. Semele, an emotionally complex but appealing mortal character, is the lover of Jupiter. Juno, Jupiter's jealous wife, conspires to have Semele painfully incinerated, after which she is immediately forgotten, and the opera ends in a scene of rejoicing at her sister Ino's wedding. Handel has created much attractive, varied, and expressive music for the score, which includes one of his loveliest and best-known solos, "Where 'er you walk." The opera receives a fine performance in this 1977 recording, with Johannes Somary leading the English Chamber Orchestra and Amor Artis Chorale, and a cast made up largely of British stars of the era. In Somary's reading, the work sounds more like an oratorio because of his measured, sometimes deliberate pacing, and because the gaps between the numbers break up any sense of dramatic flow. As Semele, Sheila Armstrong doesn't have a large voice, but it's clear and pure with an agile tessitura, and her delicacy makes her portrayal all the more poignant. Contralto Helen Watts, singing both Ino and Juno, effectively differentiates the characters and is especially powerful as the vindictive Juno. American bass Justino Diaz is a strong presence, warmly resonant as Cadmus and Somnus. Robert Tear brings some English-oratorio-tenor mannerisms to the role of Jupiter, but he has moments of real eloquence. The sound is present and nicely ambient.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 3/17/1998
  • Label: Vanguard Classics
  • UPC: 723918008226
  • Catalog Number: 82

Tracks

Disc 1
  1. 1–38 Semele, oratorio, HWV 58 - Johannes Somary & George Frideric Handel (143:24)
    Composed byGeorge Frideric Handel
    Conducted byJohannes Somary
    Performed byJohannes Somary, Sheila Armstrong, Justino Diaz, Edgar Fleet, Neilson Taylor, Robert Tear
    1. 1Overture
    2. 2Act I, Scene 1: Priest: "Behold! Auspicious flashes rise"
    3. 3Act I, Scene 1: Chorus: "Lucky omens bless our rites"
    4. 4Act I, Scene 1: Cadmus: "Daughter, obey"
    5. 5Act I, Scene 1: Semele: "Ah, me!"
    6. 6Act I, Scene 1: Ino: "Alas! She yields"
    7. 7Act I, Scene 1: Chorus of Priests: "Avert these omens"
    8. 8Act I, Scene 1: Cadmus: Again auspicious flashes"
    9. 9Act I, Scene 3: Cadmus: "Ah, wretched prince"
    10. 10Act I, Scene 4: Cadmus: "See, see!"
    11. 11Act I, Scene 4: Semele: "Endless Pleasure"
    12. 12Act II: Sinfonia
    13. 13Act II, Scene 1: Juno: "Awake, Saturnia!"
    14. 14Act II, Scene 2: Semele: "Oh sleep, why dost thou leave me?"
    15. 15Act II, Scene 3: Semele: "Let me not another moment"
    16. 16Act II, Scene 3: Jupiter: "You are mortal"
    17. 17Act II, Scene 3: Semele: "Ah, me!"
    18. 18Act II, Scene 3: Chorus of Loves and Zephyrs: "Now Love"
    19. 19Act II, Scene 3: Jupiter: "By my command"
    20. 20Act II, Scene 4: Semele: "Dear sister, how was your journey hither?"
    21. 21Act II, Scene 4: Semele & Ino: "Prepare, the, ye immortal choir"
    22. 22Act II, Scene 4: Chorus: "Bless the glad earth"
    23. 23Act III, Scene 1: Sinfonia
    24. 24Act III, Scene 1: Juno: "Somnus, awake!"
    25. 25Act III, Scene 1: Iris: "Dull God, canst thou attend"
    26. 26Act III, Scene 1: Juno: "My will obey"
    27. 27Act III, Scene 3: Semele: "Myself I shall adore"
    28. 28Act III, Scene 3: Juno: "Be wise, as you are beautiful"
    29. 29Act III, Scene 3: Juno: "Rich odours fill the fragrant air"
    30. 30Act III, Scene 4: Jupiter: "Oh Semele!"
    31. 31Act III, Scene 4: Jupiter: "Speak, speak your desire"
    32. 32Act III, Scene 4: Semele: "No, no, I'll take no less"
    33. 33Act III, Scene 5: Jupiter: "Ah, whiter is she gone!"
    34. 34Act III, Scene 6: Juno: "Above measure is the pleasure"
    35. 35Act III, Scene 7: Sinfonia; Semele: "Ah, me! too late now I repent"
    36. 36Act III, Scene 8: Ino: "Of my ill-boding dream"
    37. 37Act III, Scene the last: Sinfonia
    38. 38Act III, Scene the last: Apollo: "Apollo comes"
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Album Credits

Performance Credits
Johannes Somary Primary Artist
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