Seattle—Handel’s sensuous and sparkling opera Semele is coming to McCaw Hall for the first time this February.
Composed to an English-language libretto, this Greek myth tells the story of a mortal woman, Semele, who aspires to live among the “beautiful people”—that is, to become a goddess.
Abducted by Jupiter, king of the gods, Semele believes she has found endless love (not to mention endless pleasure!) in the divine realm.
But dancing with the deities proves dangerous; Juno, Jupiter’s jealous wife, will make this mere mortal pay dearly for her ambition and vanity in an opera that is both comic and tragic.
“Handel is finally recognized as one of the truly great opera composers of all time,” said Aidan Lang, General Director of Seattle Opera. “Semele is a perfect example of his genius. It is witty, moving, and poignant, and yet also has an uncanny resonance with the cult of celebrity that so dominates today’s entertainment world.”
Seattle Opera pairs one of the oldest scores it has ever presented, composed in 1743, with its most innovative new production yet.
The creative team—director Tomer Zvulun (who made his Seattle Opera debut in 2010 with Lucia di Lammermoor), costume designer Vita Tzykun, set designer Erhard Rom, and lighting designer Robert Wierzel—are using state-of-the-art technologies in the lighting, scenery, and costume designs to create onstage visuals worthy of this fantastical story.
Debuting costume designer Tzykun, who has previously worked with Lady Gaga, has created for Semele characters such as a goddess with winged heels and fingertips that shoot lasers, a god whose vast cloak shines with all the constellations of the night sky, and a nymph emerging from a giant clamshell.
This team’s recent production of Silent Night for Wexford Festival Opera was nominated for Best Opera Production of 2014 by the Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards.
Zvulun and Rom return to Seattle Opera following La bohème in 2013, of which The Seattle Times wrote: “From the dramatic point of view, Zvulun’s deployment of his two casts threw new light on the humanity of the piece.”
Gary Thor Wedow returns to conduct after this fall’s Don Giovanni (2014). Donald Byrd, Artistic Director of Spectrum Dance Theater, returns to choreograph.
Semele stars the incomparable mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, Artist of the Year winner for 2008/09, in the double role as Juno, the goddess bent on teaching the interloper a lesson, and Ino, Semele’s downtrodden sister.
The Seattle Times praised Blythe for her performance in the 2013 Ring. “Stephanie Blythe is a revelatory Fricka, with the power to blow everyone else off the stage, and the intelligence to shape that mighty instrument in more interesting ways. She continues to amaze the ear.”
Another Times review reported: “[Blythe]…is a singing actress of such commanding power that she simply sweeps all before her; what a voice, what a presence!”
Making their debuts opposite Blythe are tenor Alek Shrader as Jupiter, Juno’s philandering husband, and soprano Brenda Rae as Semele, the mortal woman he loves.
“Onstage, tenor Alek Shrader seems one of the most naturalistic actors among opera singers,” wrote Opera News. “His singing is distinguished by a simultaneous lyricism and verve.”
The New York Times praised Rae, writing: “Rae soared beautifully…but it was in her pianissimo singing that she really shone.”
John Del Carlo returns in the double role of Cadmus and Somnus.
The last time this bass-baritone appeared at Seattle Opera (as Dr. Bartolo in The Barber of Seville, 2000)
The Seattle Times called his performance “triumphant…he has added even more comic refinements and touches to a role that already fit him like a glove. Every gesture, every snore or snort or fulmination, had the audience laughing aloud.”
Seattle Opera Young Artists alumni Theo Lebow and Deborah Nansteel return as Jupiter and Ino/Juno in the Sunday/Friday cast.
Opera Today wrote that Lebow’s sound is “gleaming and fresh,” and Opera News called Nansteel’s voice “sumptuous” following her performance as
The Foreign Woman in The Consul (2014). Mary Feminear joins them for her company debut as Semele.
Opera News wrote of Feminear: “[She] sang Proserpine in a commandingly rich, almost mezzo-like soprano.”
Semele also features two other Seattle Opera debuts: countertenor Randall Scotting as Athamas and soprano Amanda Forsythe as Iris.
Production Sponsors: Microsoft and Kreielsheimer Endowment Fund
Additional support by: National Endowment for the Arts
Semele premieres Saturday, Feb. 21 and runs through Saturday, March 7.
Tickets are available online at seattleopera.org or by calling 206.389.7676 or 800.426.1619.
Tickets may also be purchased at the Box Office by visiting 1020 John Street (two blocks west of Fairview), Monday to Friday between 9:00 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Ticket prices start at $25.
Groups save 15 percent: 206.676.5588
Seattle Opera Ticket Office: 206.389.7676/800.426.1619
Online orders: seattleopera.org
Gabrielle Nomura Gainor,
Music by George Frideric Handel
Libretto by William Congreve
In English with English captions
Marion Oliver McCaw Hall
Performances: February 21 – March 7, 2015
Approximate Running Time: 3 hours and 30 minutes, with two intermissions
Evening performances begin at 7:30 pm, matinee at 2:00 pm
Premiere: Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, London on February 10, 1744
Seattle Opera Premiere
Semele: Brenda Rae † / Mary Feminear† *
Jupiter/Apollo: Alek Shrader † / Theo Lebow *
Ino/Juno: Stephanie Blythe / Deborah Nansteel *
Cadmus/Somnus: John Del Carlo
Athamas: Randall Scotting †
Iris: Amanda Forsythe †
Conductor: Gary Thor Wedow
Stage Director: Tomer Zvulun
Scenery Designer: Erhard Rom
Costume Designer: Vita Tzykun †
Lighting Designer: Robert Wierzel
Choreographer: Donald Byrd
Sets & Costumes: Seattle Opera
† Seattle Opera debut
* February 22 and March 6 only
Theo Lebow and Deborah Nansteel are graduates of Seattle Opera’s Young Artists Program.
Learn more about Semele
Seattle Opera offers the following educational opportunities:
Pre-Performance Talks: An hour and a half before every performance, in the Nesholm Family Lecture Hall at McCaw Hall, $7
Free Public Previews:
2/3/2015, noon, Freeland Library
2/3/2015, 2 p.m., Coupeville Library
2/4/2015, 6:30 p.m., Edmonds Library
2/6/2015, 2 p.m., Everett Library
2/8/2015, 2 p.m., Frye Museum
2/17/2015, 2 p.m., Queen Anne Library
2/17/2015, 7 p.m., Third Place Books
2/18/2015, 2 p.m., Ballard Library
2/19/2015, noon, Seattle Central Library
About Seattle Opera
Seattle Opera is a leading opera company, recognized both in the United States and around the world.
The company is committed to advancing the cultural life in the Pacific Northwest with performances of the highest caliber, and through innovative education and community programs that take opera far beyond the McCaw Hall stage.
Each year, more than 95,000 people attend Seattle Opera performances and the company’s programs serve more than 65,000 people of all ages.
Seattle Opera is especially known for its acclaimed works in the Richard Wagner canon, and has created an “international attraction” in its presentation of Wagner’s epic Ring, according to The New York Times.
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