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September 30th, 2006

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11:30 pm - NC-17 Opera
Went to see Handel's "Semele" at Lincoln Center this afternoon.

I was expecting a nice, sedate baroque opera -- lilting melodies entwining like lovers. What I was not expecting was the opposite -- the persons on stage entwined like the melodic lines they sang.

Being a pagan with a classical education, I was of course familiar with the story of the opera. Most opera companies tend to show a certain amount of restraint in their stagings, even when they have a more "edgy" director for a production. The director for this, Stephen Lawless, started off this opera-in-oratorio-form with a rather dull set and costumes that grew more colorful as the action of the opera continued, going from dark tones to briliant white as we go from the earthly abode of Semele to the divine household Jove provides for her as his mistress. Semele's costume goes from being elegant but restrained to a little speck of a slip that swirls around her as she moves about.

By the time the second act is underway, we are in a set dominated by a huge bed where Jove romps on stage with Semele, using actions that leave little to the imagination. Later on, Semele is given an on stage massage by several scantily clad handsome young men.

Sensuality flowed all over the production like chocolate syrup off a lover's body, puddling in great pools as the scent of desire permeated the theater.

And some people thingk opera is dull . . .

I liked some of the Kennedy-era imagery used -- Semele as Marilyn Monroe, splashed all over the covers of "Goddess" magazine while Juno in a mint green pillbox hat and early-60s skirted suit did a Jackie imitation as reporters and paparazzi were held at bay by Secret Service look-alikes wielding velvet rope and red carpets.

As for the singers themselves, I thought the soprano in the title role was merely adequate but Vivica Genaux, making her City Opera debut in the dual role of Juno/Ino, was outstanding as was Sanford Sylvan in his dual role of Somnus/Cadmus as compared to the weak countertenor who played Athamas. (I realize that countertenor is a difficult range, but I could barely hear him and I was only a few rows away from the stage, seated in the orchestra -- I doubt he could be heard as more than a whisper for the folks seated up in nosebleed.) The tenor who sang Jove was decent, having to carry the scene more than a few times. The soprano who played Iris was great fun to watch as she played her role, especially when she had to try to seduce Somnus as the nymph Pasithea -- she was put into a burgundy and black teddy and shimmied around him as he panted after her.

I loved the music -- I'm so happy City Opera has been at the forfront of the baroque opera revival. To me, it's a shame that so many of these works have disappeared from the standard repertory and are only now reappearing. I think every opera goer should have the opportunity to try something by Monteverdi or Rameau or Handel -- too many people think of opera as boring and full of melodramatic music -- they should see that not all opera is over-wraught. And with many of the baroque operas I've seen thus far, there is a leavening of hope and light in even the most tragic of them, unlike the unremitting doom and gloom of far too many 19th century operas I can think of. Opera would be far more popular I feel if there were more variety in the usual repertoire and I think City Opera with its productions of pre-Mozart works is taking a step in the right direction.

Especially when the operas should come with an NC-17 rating -- that'll sell tickets for sure!
Current Mood: gigglygiggly
Current Music: "With fond desiring" from Handel's "Semele"

(Eat a pomegranate)

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