Semele by G.F. Handel is supposed to be an oratorio. In Italian it's opera--in English it's oratorio. So in the New York City Opera you see the stage set up like an oratorio. There is a big pipe organ in the center of the stage with pipes all around. "Oh no!" I thought, "they're not actually doing it like an oratorio. How boring!"
There were four music stands spread out across the stage with four chairs (but not four glasses of water. In England there seem always to be glasses of water set up under the chairs.) A man came out, sat down at the organ and pretended to play. I say pretend because the sound is the orchestra. The choir filed in, the soloists took their seats. It's an oratorio.
Then Jove started disapproving and the organ blew up and the choir headed for the wings. When Jove came for Semele, she made a brief appearance in Marilyn Monroe's outfit for Seven Year Itch and did the bit where her skirt blows up. Thank Jove! It isn't going to be an oratorio!
I am amazed to say that I liked Robert Breault, the tenor who sang Jove, best. There is something wonderful about the smooth lyricism of his expression, as if he were saying "Oh, by the way, where e'er you walk cool gales...." It was gorgeous.
Semele was Elizabeth Futral. I have seen her before, apparently, in Streetcar. She and Vivica Genaux are quite good singers and actresses and made for a very lively opera. Both can do the fiorature with ease. But.... I hate saying it, but they have sacrificed legato to diction. I am searching for a certain style of legato that I really only heard in Futral's "Oh sleep." Which was quite beautiful. Her "Myself I shall adore should I persist in gazing," sung while looking at her face on magazine covers, was hilarious and very well sung. Piu legato, per favore. Sempre legato. Those singers across the plaza are there because they understand the legato. That's the main difference between a great and a merely good singer.
Well, I certainly am a bitch. I loved this opera. I loved the Marilyn Monroe imitation, I loved the Juno as Jackie Kennedy in her pill box hat. I loved the Englishness of the music, the love of a good tune, and these were a few of Handel's best. I loved Semele's temper tantrum that expresses itself as intense coloratura.
Well, well. Juno is dressed to look like Jackie, and JFK was a notorious philanderer, so what if Jackie knew about all this messing around and tried to get revenge? And wasn't Marilyn, whom Semele is dressed to resemble, one of JFK's affairs? Curiouser and curiouser. In the last scene Jove and Juno appear together before the press with flash bulbs popping, and just as the curtain goes down, Jove is hitting on another blond.
They didn't have the Kathleen Battle/Marilyn Horne recording for sale in the lobby, a serious mistake, I think. It's definitely the version to own.
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