Handel is best known nowadays for his religious oratorios, but he wrote some of his best music for his operas. He switched to oratorios when the English public lost interest in Italian opera. Semele is an odd hybrid. It premiered during Lent, with a performance “in the style of an oratorio,” but it’s a pagan tale of lust and jealousy. Jupiter falls in love with a mortal and his wife wreaks a jealous revenge. It’s become Handel’s most popular opera since it was revived in the beginning of the last century. It’s usually presented as a fully staged opera, with costumes and scenery, but it includes oratorio features like the big choruses that create rousing peaks in Handel’s oratorios.
Opera Philadelphia will present Semele fully staged as part of its Festival O19—an event that showcases three centuries of operatic styles. They’re doing Semele in the Perelman Theater, which is a good size for Baroque productions, and the cast includes singers who include Baroque music in their specialties.
Baroque opera tends to be neglected by the Baroque enthusiasts who crowd concerts devoted to Baroque choral and instrumental music. A good production of Semele should appeal to anyone who wants to know what Baroque composers did when they weren’t turning out masses and concertos.
What, When, Where:
Opera Philadelphia will present Semele on September 19, 24, and 26 at 7pm and September 21 and 28 at 2pm at the Perelman Center, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, 300 South Broad Street. Tickets are $29-180 and they’re available online.