Right from start during the overture, this production grabbed the audience’s attention by introducing the main characters as if they were in a movie or TV show. If the singer had a role as a god or goddess, then an image of that character was projected upon the scrim across the front of the stage. If the singer had the role of a mortal, then a spotlight shone on him or her from behind the scrim. For those singers who did two roles (for example, Blythe as Juno and as Ion), the deity was shown first.
Handel’s libretto was adapted from an earlier version by the great Restoration writer William Congreve. The story takes place in ancient times. Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, the King of Thebes, has been promised in marriage to Athamas, but Jupiter has been smitten with Semele’s beauty and she longs for him. After Jupiter carries Semele away to a pleasure-palace, Jupiter’s wife, Juno, becomes incensed, and takes revenge. With the help of Somnus, the god of sleep, Juno immobilizes Semele’s sister Ino and then takes on Ino’s likeness. She then convinces Semele that she can become acquire immortality if Jupiter will reveal his divine form to her. Semele falls for Juno’s line of thinking, and it results in Semele’s death.
Blythe switched seamlessly between the two characters. As Juno on her throne, she whiled away her time with bon bons until photographic proof of her philandering husband spurred to into action, The flinty wrath of her anger, which descended into the basement of Blythe’s range, torched the stage and caused an eruption of cheers from the audience. Later, as Ino, Blythe and Rae’s duet, “Prepare then, ye immortal choir,” ended so spectacularly that the audience responded with thunderous applause, which, in turn, drowned out the first few measures of the ensuing chorus.
Amanda Forsythe sparkled in the role of Iris, singing impeccably and with carefree abandon. She complimented it all with excellent comic timing, shoes that lit up, and gloves that threw beams of green laser light all over the place. John Del Carlo projected a depth charge of basso profundo that gave weight to the grief of Cadmus and to the drowsy Somnus.
|From right: Stephanie Blythe (Juno), John Del Carlo (Somnus) and Amanda Forsythe (Iris) in Semele |
© Avi Loud
Tomar Zvulun’s witty directions enhanced the production, and kept it from tipping over into the land of slapstick comedy, which would have trivialized the sensuous and poignant moments. The projections and sets, designed by Erhard Rom, had a modern flair yet evoked foreground of an ancient temple and lofty mountain heights. Humorous touches included huge selfies of Semele that adorned the pleasure-palace and Somnus draped over a sofa in the lair of his nightclub. Costume designer Vita Tzkun gave the gods and goddesses lavish outfits to match their outsized personalities, including an extended cape for Somnus, which gave him a Fafner-like presence. The flashiest garb was worn by Iris, whose gloves emitted laser lights and winged shoes lit up the floor. Imaginative lighting by Robert Wierzel put just the right glow on everything.
Much more could be stated about this amazing production, which has to rank as one of Seattle Opera’s best ever, There are four performances left to choose from: February 28, March 4, 6, and 7. Go see it, by Jupiter, go!