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24.1.07

La Bartoli in Semele, Zurich

Here is a review by George Loomis (Cecilia Bartoli shines in a new staging of "Semele", January 23) in the International Herald Tribune, of the new Robert Carsen staging of Handel's Semele at the Opernhaus Zürich. By the way, Cecilia Bartoli is singing the lead.

The prospect of witnessing Cecilia Bartoli in an important a new role was probably the greatest draw, but the Zurich Opera House's new production of Handel's "Semele" also happened to be the first staging by the director Robert Carsen since his production of "Candide" met a curious reception at Paris's Théâtre du Châtelet last month. [...]

Admirers of Carsen's work were left wondering whether this level-headed but creatively innovative director might be making a bid for the kind of notoriety cultivated by other opera producers. The appearance of the world leaders, for instance, could easily strike one as analogous to the appearance of religious leaders in the Deutsche Oper Berlin's production of "Idomeneo" which caused such a ruckus last autumn. But Carsen, who has staged "Semele" previously at the English National Opera and Aix-en-Provence, resisted the temptation to engage in radical rethinking. In a program note, he aptly observed that William Congreve's libretto "pulsates with life, feeling, comedy and eroticism." These are qualities that have caused the late Handel work — though originally staged "in the manner of an oratorio" as the composer looked for new ways to impress London audiences as well as to save money — to be regarded as one of the finest operas with an English text.
Loomis notes that this is the first time La Bartoli has sung a role on stage in a language other than Italian. Baroque opera in historically informed performance practice is now so important in Europe that the Zurich Opera has its own resident period-instrument orchestra, La Scintilla, led in this production by William Christie.

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