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Thursday, 21 April 2011

Semele by Hampstead Garden Opera

Semele was the opera in which I performed at the Royal Opera House when I was 15, my one claim to fame on the great stage. We had a fabulously ornate set and my costume was so intricate it had to be made directly on me. I was so overwhelmed by it all, it felt like I was entering another world.

This opera is, in my opinion, one of Handel's greatest, featuring a host of familiar arias that have become just as popular out of context. ‘Where’er you walk’ and ‘Oh sleep, why dost thou leave me?’ are two memorable songs that have particularly beautiful melodies. The story of Semele is completely mad, and not worth attempting to explain! Handel wrote the opera/oratorio in 1744 and based the narrative around the classical myth of Semele, mother of Dionysus. It is an alluring but complicated tale of mortals and immortals, and the disastrous consequences when they meet.

Hampstead Garden Opera is a young company I’ve seen perform several times. A great vehicle for promising young singers, many of whom are embarking on music careers and get a rare chance, at the age of 23/24 to lead a company. HGO improves each time I see it, and staging this opera is its biggest challenge yet. Without the budget of the ROH, this little team has to be more stringent with production costs, and imaginative. I didn’t completely understand the vision though visually the ideas work well, and are, at times hauntingly dramatic.

Femme fatale Semele is taken on by a very competent Robyn Parton, throwing everything she has into this demanding temptress role. Her voice soars with confidence, even through the trickier, fiddlier passages. As a big countertenor fan, I loved listening to Tom Verney singing the alto part of Athamas, he is a charismastic and assured vocalist, and sings in his higher register with a sensual tone. Though there are many star soloists, one's attention is drawn to the chorus who seem to delight in playing the demonic spirits. Despite being quite removed from the orchestra they manage impressive movements while singing in perfect harmony, with a togetherness I couldn’t fault.

Another thrilling musical display from HGO, Semele has now finished but judging by the success of this production, it might be worth booking ahead for their next show.


  1. Excellent review!
    It seems like it would have been quite something to see!

  2. That's so cool you were able to perform in the Opera. You have a lovely blog, so much good info

    Definitely following now
    Thx for checking out mine too