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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Semele at the Komische Oper Berlin

    Semele, music drama in three parts, first presented as oratorio (now widely considered to rather be a Baroque opera), sung in English, with German surtitles
    Music by Georg Friedrich Händel
    Libretto by William Congreve, based on Ovid's Metamorphoses
    Premiered at Covent Garden, London, on 10 February 1744

    -----------

    This review is of a new production by the Komische Oper Berlin, first seen on live streaming (May 12) then attended in person on July 10, 2018 (the last performance of the run that opened on May 12; part of the Komische Oper's summer festival).

    This article is part of the Opera Lively coverage of opera houses in the German-speaking area of Central Europe in the Summer of 2018 - see the links to numerous other reviews, interviews, pictorial blogs, and other articles related to this coverage, by clicking [here]

    Orchester der Komischen Oper Berlin - CONDUCTOR - Konrad Junghänel
    Chorsolisten der Komischen Oper Berlin - CHORUS MASTER - David Cavelius

    STAGE DIRECTION - Barrie Kosky
    SET DESIGN - Natacha Le Guen de Kerneizon
    COSTUME DESIGN - Carla Teti
    DRAMATURGY - Johanna Wall
    LIGHTING - Alessandro Carletti

    CAST

    CADMUS, KING OF THEBES - Philipp Meierhöfer
    SEMELE, HIS DAUGHTER - Nicole Chevalier
    INO, HER SISTER - Katarina Bradić
    ATHAMAS, PRINCE OF BŒOTIA - Eric Jurenas
    JUPITER, KING OF THE GODS - Allan Clayton
    JUNO, HIS WIFE - Ezgi Kutlu
    IRIS, HER CONFIDANTE - Nora Friedrichs
    SOMNUS, GOD OF SLEEP - Evan Hughes

    -----------

    Jupiter, god of gods and master of disguise when it comes to conquering desirable women, kidnaps and seduces the king’s daughter Semele. Juno, Jupiter’s deeply hurt wife, does everything in her power to put an end to the unbridled affair. She even asks the idle god Somnus for help. She too puts her faith in the power of disguise: she appears to her rival as Semele’s sister Ino, and persuades her to make Jupiter reveal himself to her in his true, godly form. Semele’s persistence is greater than Jupiter’s masculine fortitude. Yet her fate is therefore sealed: she dies gruesomely in the burning rays of godly lighting. However, out of Semele’s ashes arises an unborn child: Bacchus, god of intoxication, excess and ecstasy.

    Despite the splendid choirs typical of oratorios and the expressive arias which did not have to adhere to the rigid formula of opera seria, Handel’s contemporaries turned their noses up at the saucily erotic and more than a little humorous subject matter, which they deemed to be wholly inappropriate for an oratorio. Yet that all quickly changed. Today, Semele is one of the most popular works penned by Georg Friedrich Händel. Baroque specialist Konrad Junghänel, and director Barrie Kosky (who is also the Intendant of the Komische Oper Berlin – discover the female will to power in the Ovidian myth.

    ------------

    Review of the performance:

    Excellent production and performance! Again, my admiration for the Komische Oper Berlin soars. This is a treat, one of those shows that are almost perfect, leaving the spectator with only one regret: once it is over, it is kind of sad that this much fun is gone.

    There is a lot to like. The set is made of one bleak, gray, foggy, derelict room in ruins, and it doesn't change in the three acts. Actually, this is smart, because some of the (contemporary) costumes introduce splashes of color, and the sparsity of the set allows for a lot of focus on the music and the acting. A+

    Blocking is very good, with many inventive moments when the chorus is on stage, and interesting displacements of the singers, concentrating the action in some corners. A++ Lighting gets it right too, with the dark stage getting alternatively illuminated by rays of light coming from opening doors. A+

    The choreography adds several touches that make the show even more entertaining, such as the scene when Juno disguises herself as Ino: we get both singers on stage, Juno singing, and Ino mouthing the words, and they revolve around Semele in a very involving way. The scenes with Juno and Iris are also delightful (the latter, the talented and pretty Nora Friedrichs, introduces comic relief), as well as the one that introduces Somnus. At times the singers actively dance on stage, reminding me of the Glyndebourne Giulio Cesare and its choreography. A++.

    The orchestra played beautifully (it was a subset of the Orchester der Komischen Oper Berlin, using period instruments) and the conductor was first rate. Easily A++ for both, and we couldn't hope for a better chorus (which also gets the maximum grade).

    I said that this performance was *almost* perfect because there were a few singing glitches. The show I saw online sounded like most singers were not very agile in the coloratura parts. This was mostly notable for the main couple, Jupiter and Semele, who both sang very beautifully in the legato parts but seemed to produce less pleasant sounds in the faster passages. Interesting enough, this was completely gone in the live show that I attended several months after the online version, so, it must have been a question of rehearsals and the singers getting more comfortable with their lines.

    I thought that Eric Jurenas was the weakest link; we've heard better countertenors (he really lacks volume). Excellent surprises were the two mezzos, both sublime: Katarina and Ezgi. Nora Friedrichs is charming, with great stage presence. In a comprimario role, Evan Hughes did very well. Allan Clayton was very good as Jupiter. Nicole Chevalier is a phenomenal actress. Every time she was on stage (which was almost all the time, as the title role) she stole the scene with her acting. Two of the highlights were when she narcissistically celebrates what she things will be her path to immortality (it backfires on her), and the moment when she confronts Jupiter ("I'm always granting, and you always complain). Wow! Unbelievably acting and voice; the house went wild with applause.

    Overall, acting gets A++ and singing A+.

    This was another one of the great shows in this trip that included 16 operas. A+, highly recommended, a true pleasure! Bravo, Komische Oper Berlin! There was very, very prolonged standing ovation at the end.

    Below, several official production pictures, and curtain calls.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); July 10th, 2018 at 09:43 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Name:  Semele1.JPG
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    Ino and Athamas

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    Same

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    Cadmus

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    Semele, Cadmus, Ino, and Athama

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    Semele

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    Semele and chorus

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    Iris and Juno

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    Semele and Jupiter
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); May 12th, 2018 at 10:01 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Name:  Semele11.JPG
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    Semele and Jupiter

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    Iris and Juno

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    Semele

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    Jupiter and Semele
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    Iris and Juno

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    Iris, Somnus, and Juno

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    Somnus and Semele
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); May 12th, 2018 at 10:04 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Name:  Semele21.JPG
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    Semele and Ino

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    Semele, Ino (Juno in disguise), Juno

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    Semele

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    Last scene, Semele and chorus

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    Curtain call

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    The interior of the opera house

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    Same
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); May 12th, 2018 at 10:06 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Soave_Fanciulla's Avatar
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    Now courtesy of OperaVision:

    Natalie

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    The review of the performance has been updated to include considerations about the live show seen tonight (a preliminary review was done earlier, based on the online broadcast).

    Here are a couple of curtain call pictures and the beautiful ornaments in the opera house (the prettiest one of three houses in Berlin):

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    We interviewed the charming Nora Friedrichs today (who looks much better in person without the make-up and the wig), and we'll be interviewing the great Nicole Chevalier tomorrow. Stay tuned for these interviews, once they are transcribed and published (it should take at least a couple of months given the huge material we are bringing home from this trip).
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    Wow! I‘m envious and wish I had added this one to our schedule! Every evening at the Komische Oper is a treat.

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    I just interviewed Nicole Chevalier. I had noticed, from the online version I saw earlier, that the singers didn't appear to be very agile in the coloratura parts: "This was mostly notable for the main couple, Jupiter and Semele, who both sang very beautifully in the legato parts but seemed to produce less pleasant sounds in the faster passages. Interesting enough, this was completely gone in the live show that I attended several months after the online version."

    She said in that performance in the past, she had bronchitis and in her words "I was singing with only one vocal cord." She did acknowledge that due to her illness she struggled with the coloratura. Now that she is well, she did it perfectly.

    That explains it!

    I asked why the houses in Germany don't seem to announce when a singer is sick. I was told that indeed this is not customary in Germany, but if the singer really wants it, they do make these announcements.

    Nicole said she didn't feel like announcing it.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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