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She feels pretty

semele_bartoliAn unlikely but adept English-language vocal stylist, Cecilia Bartoli, led the cast of a revival of the 2007 Zurich staging of Handel’s Semele, transferred to the Theater an der Wien for a short run. Director Robert Carsen takes an occasional liberty: Juno and Jupiter emerge as British royals, for instance, she a wellie-wearer and devotee of the low tabloids. Yet disbelief is gladly suspended, and kept there, a rare credit these days. 

At the opening Thursday night, Les Arts Florissants rendered the orchestral score in supple detail and with broad tonal wealth, earning a sustained ovation. William Christie, full of vigor, must have relished the chance to lead his own players, as he could not in Zurich. Pit-and-stage coordination signaled confidence, both ways.

Charles Workman delivered the Prince Albert-like god with finesse, dropping oddly, emotively, to a mezza voce for half of his infinite-gift aria, “Where e’er you walk.” Birgit Remmert’s alto no longer projects evenly through its range, yet she retains her bottom and milked the role of Juno with queenly aplomb, musical and dramatic.

Bartoli ‘s “Myself I shall adore” placed textual emphasis on its second line, “If I persist in gazing,” with Remmert, now as Ino, itching risibly to snatch back the mirror: in a tale of ambition, this Semele would fall to her fate seemingly by mishap, not so much by scheming.

Bartoli in 2007 Zurich performance of Semele

Head and chest voice sounded warmly integrated, versus 20 years ago, notably in Act One. Fireworks, late in the evening, found agility and power, though with slight slowing in the lethal demand aria, “No, no, I’ll take no less,” abetted by Christie, perhaps for effect. Here Congreve’s story turns ugly, and Bartoli rose to a concomitant smoldering anger — in clear English and at generally breakneck tempos.

The four supporting roles were stylishly taken. Over the hum of air conditioning, and despite dull diction from the Arnold Schoenberg Chor, it was gratifying to watch and hear a 1743 London work seduce everyone in Beethoven’s small house.

37 comments

  • papopera says:

    Is it Bartoli’s intention to continue her career singing all these antediluvian operas ?

  • La marquise de Merteuil says:

    Who else at that level is championing this music?

    So, until someone else comes along who doesn’t choke the words to create effect, snarl (Salieri disc in particular) etc … , I’ll continue to buy Bartoli’s cds and continue to be thankful that at least I get to hear what this music sounds like… Now Semele I won’t bother with, as long as I have my unHIP Battle nothing else will take its place.

  • I have this commercial DVD. It is ghastly.

    • operanut says:

      I agree. I purchased this DVD and waited in great anticipation for what turned out to be one of the most disappointing musical experiences I ever had. Most of the singing was plain out poor and the production, in my opinion, was silly. I’ve watched the DVD once.

  • scifisci says:

    anyone know about this?: http://www.amazon.com/Halevy-Clari-Zurich-Opera/dp/B0040ZK8LW/ref=pd_sim_d_6

    I would buy this just to see her milk a cow onstage

  • I saw the second performance last night and it really was delightful.

  • richard says:

    Very un-HIP and certainly with more ornamentation than would be considered appropriate today, here is the much hated Sills singing the same aria.

    This Semele performance dates from the fairly brief period between her making a name for herself and her voice starting to become unraveled .

    I can’t help finding some of the effects dazzling.

  • Conny says:

    As announced today in Vienna, by Alexander Pereira, the designated intendant of the Salzbourg Festival, Cecilia Bartoli has been appointed, as of 2012, for 3 years, as artistic director of the Whitsun Festival, an off-shoot of the Salzbourg Festival. The Whitsun Festival has been created in 1973 and integrated in 1998 in the Salzbourg Summer Festival. She will replace conductor Ricardo Muti in this position, clearly indicating a renewed and intensified focus on baroque music, though Mr. Pereira has pointed to a broadening of the festivals programming.

    For the 2012 edition, Haendels 2012 “Giulio Cesare in Egitto” is already scheduled. Next years Whitsun festival, taking place 10-13 June, will be dedicated to the Neapolitan school of music.