Semele: An Opera in Three Acts by George Frideric Handel, 2012, COC
(Directed by Zhang Huan)

This opera had the most remarkable set: a 450 year old ancestral temple, dismantled, and rebuilt on stage. What an ambience it created for a Western opera, sung in English, based on a Roman/Greek myth, set in the East!

The story is an age-old one of a woman punished for not knowing her 'place,' (by falling in love with a god.)

Act 1: Semele does not want to marry Prince Athamas. She calls on Jupiter (Zeus) to extricate her from her dilemma. He responds with alacrity (and thunder bolts!) Semele is borne away on the wings of an eagle and into Jupiter's ardent embrace.

Act 2: Jupiter's wife Juno (Hera) is, surprisingly, a little miffed with her godly spouse's new fancy. She plots with Somnus, the god of sleep, to get rid of the imposter. Semele is entertained by Jupiter in a sensual Arcadian grove. (complete with very phallic ass)

Act 3: Jupiter is alight with lust for Semele. Semele, having been tricked by Juno's magic mirror, mistakenly thinks she is goddessly splendiferous, enough so to survive a god's passion. Alas, she's not. She's burnt to a crisp in the embrace of the god's erm, dragon-fervor.

...but: in a bonus Buddhist -where all things are circular- twist, Bacchus (Dionysus) god of wine, will arise from Semele's ashes, washing that bitter taste right out of your mouth!

The costume design was as divine as the gods. The Sumo wrestlers (Americus Abesamis and Byambaja Ulambayar) were a nice touch, and impressed with their glorious girth and moves. I also enjoyed all the singing by a very accomplished cast, especially that of Tibetan singer Amchok Gompo Dunhop.

All-in-all a most unusual and brave comedic tragedy, with delightful sensual undertones. Not a fuddy-duddy Handel. How fortunate we are to have such entertainment available in Toronto! Kudos to Alexander Neef, COC's General Director.

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