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Semele review at Coliseum London

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Handel may not be the first name that springs to mind when comedy is mentioned but in setting Congreve’s libretto he produced a piece whose elegant wit is sharply profiled throughout this classy production.

John La Bouchardiere is in charge of a precise and stylish revival of Robert Carsen’s original staging. The opera tells the story of delectable young Semele, loved by the god Jupiter and therefore hated by his jealous wife Juno, who comes up with a terrible revenge for the not overly bright blonde bombshell. She is played by Carolyn Sampson, as lovely to look at as she is to hear, which is saying something. As Juno, Patricia Bardon has a whale of a time impersonating the Queen in a production that transfers the sex and politics theme from the world of Greek myth to the present day – and indeed Buckingham Palace. Like Sampson she voices Handel’s notes with flamboyant distinction.

Anne Marie Gibbons is excellent as Semele’s sister Ino and Robin Blaze sings mellifluously as Semele’s unwanted suitor Athamas. Janis Kelly is a hoot as Juno’s accident prone PA Iris and Iain Paterson comes up with vocal and dramatic gravitas as Semele’s father Cadmus.

Of the principals, only Ian Bostridge’s Jupiter disappoints. He pipes the notes accurately but is dull as the pleasure-loving king of the gods.

However, Laurence Cummings’ sparky conducting makes Handel’s score dance and the chorus and orchestra follow his lead.

Production Information

Coliseum, London , November 18, 20, 23, 26, December 1, 16, 18

Robert Carsen, John La Bouchardiere
English National Opera
Cast includes
Carolyn Sampson, Ian Bostridge, Patricia Bardon, Janis Kelly, Anne Marie Gibbons
Running time
3hrs 10mins

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