‘Semele’ Gives Baroque a New Look
April 8th, 2016
Omaha, NE — Daring designs and stirring performances highlight the latest effort from Opera Omaha.
George Frideric Handel’s Semele opens Friday night at 7:30 p.m. inside the Orpheum Theater. The musical drama, directed by James Darrah and Conducted by Stephen Stubbs, features the striking visual style one would expect from Darrah’s creative team, the same team responsible for 2014’s production of Agrippina and 2015’s A Flowering Tree. The show comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, revolving around Semele, the mother of Bacchus. Opera Omaha describes the show as an opera of unbridled lust, jealousy, and revenge. It’s also features some of Handel’s best orchestral and vocal writing, highlighting the best of the Baroque era. Countertenor Ray Chanez, who plays Athamas in the production spoke about the production’s unique musical style.
“The interesting thing about comparing Baroque opera in terms of stylistic differences with later operas is that Baroque has very divided…systems of recitativo and aria,” Chanez said. “This particular piece is interesting in that it was also written in the oratorio style. It’s a very dramatic piece and makes its way to opera very well, but it’s very much written in a declamatory sense with the recitativ. Then, the arias unfold from there. Of course, there’s also a number of choruses, which is quite common in the oratorio form.”
Chanez said the production was a wonderful challenge for a vocalist like himself.
“For me, I often sing roles that much higher,” he said. “When I looked at this role, initially, I said ‘Oh my goodness, it’s so low.’ That was really a challenge for me, to get this lower role into my body. A wonderful thing that also happened, I sand the role through for our conductor, Stephen Stubbs, and I sang all of my ornaments for the first aria, which I made much higher for my voice. I came in the next day and Stephen said, ‘You know, I think we’ll rewrite some of these other things.’ He had rewritten a number of the pieces for me to be in a higher place which will be much more exciting for this particular role.”
For Chanez, the show’s unique style and voice are a credit to the production team, whose captures the spirit of Handel’s work while inspiring new ways to look at the production.
“When I first came in and we sang ‘Your Tuneful Voice’, the rendition that the maestro came up with, the way he played the music was the most exciting way I had ever heard that aria. I told him ‘We have to do it exactly like that. Forget anything that I’m doing, I want to do it exactly like this.’ James Darrah also bring a very interesting directorial style to the production. He really brings a lot of specificity to each character and the motivations between them. Also, I find that his style is very visual in nature. We have a lot of very specific elegance in movement on stage.”
Chanez said that audiences members of all persuasions will find something to love about the show.
“I think if you’re a person who loves imaginative concepts and ideas and stories, it’s a wonderful story. The music of Semele is incredibly beautiful. Handel has this incredible way of creating theatrical drama in his music.”
Opera Omaha’s production of George Frideric Handel’s Semele performs Friday, April 8th at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 10th at 2 p.m. inside the Orpheum Theater in downtown Omaha. For more information on the show, visit www.OperaOmaha.org.
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