The Semele Project: Working Title
Hi, and welcome to my project blog! The Semele Project (I don't know if that's its forever title) is a retooling of Handel's opera Semele, and I'm about to tell you more about it (see below).
Here's the basic premise (elevator pitch? Maybe, if you were going to a fairly high floor): Have you ever been to a Baroque opera? You loved it, right? Because the music was just so gorgeous there were moments you felt like your skin was made of crystals (I'm approximating here). But there were also moments when you thought to yourself, "This is a little long...ok, it's a lot long...ok I'm literally going to miss the last train," and so maybe you didn't make it through the second intermission, despite your newly crystallized skin.
There are things about Baroque opera that are just alienating. Da capos. Choruses where the words are kind of the same thing sung basically back-to-back. The oddness of the way that every plot point seems to happen in about five seconds--and then the characters sing about their emotions surrounding said plot point for like ten minutes. Not to mention the fact that it is often "of its time" in a manner that audiences can find off-putting (misogynistic, racist, classist...).
But the things about Baroque opera that are so splendid and so incredible DESERVE to be shared. They NEED to be shared. Some of the most glorious, deepest, most exciting, most human music in the entire operatic tradition lies within Baroque operas, not seeing the light of day because the structure that surrounds it is too long and too alien for modern audiences.
That's what the Semele Project (working title) is all about: making Handelian opera performable and programmable. Less expensive, less "grand," less formal; more connected, more immediate.
I'm sure there are several ways to do this. Mine is to replace the recits, most of the choruses, and some of the arias with spoken modern-language dialogue, so that the audience can really connect with what's going on in the plot, and is ready to be thrilled, chilled, and entranced by the sheer brilliance of the arias and ensembles, presented with small instrumental forces to turn them into deeply connected, deeply interwoven chamber music. Both the length and the expense of the resulting production will be lessened greatly, while still managing to achieve a fascinating show and showcase for the excitement of the music.
Semele includes arias like "Where E'er You Walk," "Endless Pleasure, Endless Love," and (contralto favorite) "Iris, Hence, Away," and these are only some of the more famous pieces--ensemble after ensemble, aria after aria, the music is sheer, unalloyed amazement. The characters, too, are full of interest and conflict, their motivations sincere and fascinating, their plot compelling, subtle and layered. It's a work of genius, and I don't want to take away from it. I only wish to create a version that can be enjoyed by today's audiences and performed by today's opera companies, large and small, not to nullify, but to expand the sphere of Baroque opera. It has so much to tell us, so much to show us, and so much for us to hear.
I'll go into the specifics of writing the script, ideas behind the version we hope to create, the workshop process, and other such exciting stuff in other entries, but I just wanted to do this introduction this way, to provide background on the thought process for the Semele Project (working title)...and to answer that ever-popular theatrical question, "What's my motivation?"
Thanks for your time!