The Independent London Newspaper

Classical and Jazz: Preview - Handel’s Semele, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Published: 7 April, 2011
by SEBASTIAN TAYLOR

HANDEL’S bawdy, musically extravagant Semele is the latest challenge to be taken on by Hampstead Garden Opera specialising in providing opportunities for young soloists on the cusp of their careers.

The production opens at Upstairs at the Gatehouse in Highgate tomorrow (Friday).

“Semele is not simply ‘after the manner of an oratorio’, as described in 1744,” says Alastair Macgeorge, HGO’s chairman. “It’s a full-blooded opera in disguise – and a ‘bawdy’ one at that, as the librettist for the Messiah was quick to note.

“Yet, after its initial production, it was to be only in 1959, some 200 years after Handel’s death, that Semele was given a professional performance and began to be recognised as the operatic masterpiece that it is.”

The opera’s plot is simple. The beautiful young mortal Semele is about to celebrate her engagement to the man chosen by her father. But she’s not in love with him – she’s mad about Jupiter. 

Juno, the wife of Jupiter, is mad about her husband too – he can’t keep his hands off the girls and this one looks serious.

Gods and mortals play it out to the finish – but there can only be one winner, and that’s love, love, love.

Several young north London singers are taking on key parts. 

Dominic Kraemer, born and brought up in Muswell Hill, takes the role of Semele’s father, Cadmus. 

Islington-based mezzo-soprano Katie Grosset is Jupiter’s wife, Juno; soprano Jennifer Clark from Willesden Green is Iris, the go-between of the gods; and counter-tenor Ton Verney from St John’s Wood is Semele’s unloved fiancé, Athamas.

In a “first” for the HGO, Semele is being performed with a baroque orchestra, the newly formed Musica Poetica. 

Music director Oliver-John Ruthven conducts from the harpsichord.

• Handel’s Semele, Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate, N6, 020 8340 33488,
www.upstairsatthegatehouse.com Evenings April 8, 9, 13, 14, 15, 16 & 16 at 7.30pm; Sundays April 10 & 17 at 4pm. Tickets: April 8 and 9 £18/ cons £16; all others £20/cons £18

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