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Introducing Semele

We take an in-depth look at Handel's Semele.

Revenge is served blazing hot in Semele, Handel’s sexiest and most scandalous oratorio.

Festival 2023 will see Glyndebourne’s first ever production, directed by Olivier Award nominee Adele Thomas and conducted by Václav Luks.

Semele is a story and a score ripe with desire and sensuality. So how does Handel turn sex into sound? How does he translate a provocative myth into a satisfying stage work? In our latest short film, we brought classicist Daisy Dunn, music historian Ruth Smith and opera singer and satirist Melinda Hughes together with soprano Jane Archibald to explore…

A brief introduction

The original audience of Handel’s Semele must have had quite a shock. Instead of a traditional biblical drama that they might have been expecting for lent, they were faced with something entirely different. Replacing the familiar biblical heroes were a host of lascivious Roman gods, and their mortal playthings. Far from being a sacred drama, Semele was a provocatively secular story of seduction, adultery and revenge.

Semele is engaged, but secretly in love with someone else. Her lover is none other than Jove, King of the Gods. When he carries Semele off, it invokes the wrath of his wife Juno who devises a scheme to punish her husband and destroy her rival once and for all.

Combining the sexual intrigue of classical myth with the solo virtuosity of Italian opera and the choral splendour of oratorio, Semele is the best of all worlds, a piece that rewrites the theatrical rules.

Why not to miss this production

This production comes hot on the heels of director Adele Thomas’s Oliver Award nomination for her staging of Vivaldi’s Bajazet at the Royal Opera House. She makes her much anticipated Glyndebourne debut with our first ever production of Semele.

Where better to see a Handel oratorio than Glyndebourne – home to David McVicar’s iconic Giulio Cesare, Barrie Kosky’s Saul, Robert Carson’s Rinaldo and Francesco Micheli’s extravagant Alcina.

Above: Adele Thomas’s Oliver Award nominated production of Vivaldi’s Bajazet. Photograph: Irish National Opera/Kip Carroll

A great moment to look out for

In Act II we see Semele and Jove at the height of their passion – alone together in Semele’s beautiful new palace. But, while Semele sings evocatively (and even erotically) about her love in her glittering aria ‘With fond desiring’, there’s still an underlying sense of anxiety in the music. Those gasping phrases – ‘panting, fainting’ – may conjure the physical urgency of her wants, but those fretful, circling phrases suggest that she’s not entirely sure of her new lover. With the bassline falling away altogether, voice and violin float, unmoored, in musical space – free and expressive, but also vulnerable.

You can watch Jane Archibald’s performance of the aria below.

Cast and creative team

Czech conductor and baroque music specialist Václav Luks will make his Glyndebourne debut leading the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

Soprano Joélle Harvey takes the virtuoso title role, returning to Glyndebourne following her ‘captivating’ (The Telegraph) turn as Cleopatra in 2018’s Giulio Cesare.

Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston and tenor Stuart Jackson play Juno and Jove, with former Jerwood Young Artist Stephanie Wake-Edwards as Ino.

Semele is on stage 23 July – 26 August 2023. Public booking opens on Sunday 5 March at 6.00pm.
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