Canadian Opera Company, Semele, Handel
The Canadian Opera Company's 2011/2012 season closes with the company premiere of George Frideric Handel's Semele in a production directed by famed Chinese visual and performance artist Zhang Huan. Joining Mr. Zhang to present Handel's sparkling and seductive opera about the pitfalls of love affairs between gods and mortals is Italian Baroque opera specialist Rinaldo Alessandrini, who leads the COC Orchestra and Chorus. Sung in English with English SURTITLES™, Semele runs for eight performances at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on May 9, 11, 13, 16, 19, 22, 24 and 26, 2012.
The COC's presentation of Semele is the first opportunity for audiences to experience Zhang's production of Semele outside Brussels, Belgium, where it premiered in 2009, and Beijing in 2010, where it was China's first major staging of a Baroque opera. Zhang made his directorial debut with Semele, conceiving a work that blends a Baroque aesthetic with the splendour of China.
Zhang's Semele takes the world of classical music and presents it through the lens of a contemporary Chinese artist, drawing on parallels between Greco-Roman mythology and Chinese legends, as well as Buddhist concepts of karma and reincarnation, to create a true interaction of Eastern and Western cultures. He weaves together many elements of Chinese culture, incorporating dazzling and innovative visual effects involving mirrors, puppetry, a Chinese dragon and artists who sing while moving suspended through air. Zhang also incorporates traditions reflective of Japanese and Tibetan cultures through the inclusion of sumo wrestlers and a traditional Tibetan singer. The production's centerpiece is a 450-year-old Ming Dynasty ancestral temple salvaged by Zhang from a small town in China. The temple's own history, with an adulterous story that eerily parallels Semele's plot, makes its way into the production in the form of a black-and-white documentary projected during the overture (see attached backgrounder).
Han Feng, sought-after for her fashion as well as costume and exhibition designs, plays with Zhang's concept to create a fusion of Chinese theatre and European Baroque in the costumes enhanced by the magical lighting design originally conceived by Wolfgang Göbbel.
Rinaldo Alessandrini, founder and conductor of the Italian early music ensemble Concerto Italiano, makes his COC debut conducting Semele, the first Handel opera performed at the Four Seasons Centre. He leads the COC Orchestra and Chorus through a score that showcases Handel at his most expressive and inventive with sparkling music that evokes both a sensual tone and vividly dramatic sound.