Opera Scotland

Semele 2005Scottish Opera

Read more about the opera Semele

The 2004-05 season of Scottish Opera consisted of six events, five being full-scale stagings. Proceedings opened with a double-bill of early twentieth century classics, Duke Bluebeard's Castle and Erwartung. The autumn programme also contained a revival of Tosca, the vintage 1980 staging by the late Anthony Besch. The new year began with a rare sighting in Scotland of an opera by Tippett, The Knot Garden. Handel's wonderful setting of Restoration comedy, Semele, followed, and the fifth full-scale production was a revival of Fidelio. The early part of 2005 also featured a concert version of Andrea Chénier, as well as the usual Highlands and Islands tour of Essential Scottish Opera.

This memorable Handel production nearly fell a victim to the worst financial crisis in Scottish Opera's history which resulted in the company losing an entire season of work. The director/designer engaged for the production had been working on Les Troyens in Paris and seems to have found it difficult to scale down his ambitions to match the funds available in Glasgow, in spite of having worked there before. After his departure, the new team had to come up with a cheap scheme quickly, and they met the challenge with greater success than could ever have been expected.

The curtain rose on two rows of simple black chairs, The chorus and soloists emerged and sat solemnly, all in black - we were clearly going to have a concert performance, or as the work was originally done "in the manner of an oratorio". The audience got distinctly restive. No need to worry though - at the clap of thunder and the descent of the eagle to rescue Semele, the chorus fled, taking their chairs with them, Juno and Iris appeared in full 18th century court dress to survey the world below through telescopes, and a marvellously witty, and fully staged performance continued from then on.

Christian Curnyn's approach to the music was light, pointed and witty. Lisa Milne gave a near perfect account of the title role (one she had first tackled as a student), and Jeremy Ovenden was a beautifully mellifluous Jupiter. Kate Royal made her local debut to delightful effect in the short role of Iris, while Susan Bickley doubled the jealous wife and heroine's worthy sister to hilarious effect.

Altogether this was a real treat, with the sly humour perfectly judged. Now that the company has at last discovered Handel it does seem a pity that none of the stagings has been revived - this one really should be appearing regularly.

Performance Cast

Cadmus King of Thebes

Michael George

Semele daughter of Cadmus

Lisa Milne

Ino sister of Semele

Susan Bickley

Athamas a Prince of Boeotia

Arnon Zlotnik


Susan Bickley

Iris Juno's attendant

Kate Royal


Jeremy Ovenden


Michael George


Hilton Marlton

Performance DatesSemele 2005

Map List

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

17 Feb, 18.30 19 Feb, 18.30

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

19 Feb, 18.30 22 Feb, 18.30 26 Feb, 14.15

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