Following successful performances in Belgium, Canada and China, Handel’s Semele, co-produced by the KT Wong Foundation (KTWF) and Theatre Royal de la Monnaie, has been invited to premiere at the world-renowned Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in March 2015. The production is presented by Canadian Opera Company, directed by famous Chinese contemporary visual artist Zhang Huan, with distinguished British conductor and Baroque opera expert Christopher Moulds leading the critically acclaimed COC Orchestra and COC Chorus.
The story, of what is Handel’s most sensuous opera, focuses on Semele, a princess and mistress of the god Jupiter, whose attempt to trade sexual favors for divinity leads to her undoing.
As a leading arts and cultural foundation, the KT Wong Foundation has been at the forefront of cultural exchange between the East and West since its founding in 2007. Resolute in her vision to foster bridges between China and the wider world, KT Wong Foundation chairwoman Lady Linda Wong Davies approached Zhang Huan – one of the most boundary-pushing artists in China whose work often focuses on existential explorations and social commentary – to direct Semele, despite the artist’s lack of experience in opera. The result was an unlikely pairing between an avant-garde Chinese artist and a world-famous Belgian opera house, uniting Western Baroque opera with Chinese stagecraft for the first time ever. As Lady Davies said, “One of the aims of the Foundation is to go beyond the normal cultural boundaries, the normal disciplines, to bring all sorts of people together and to foster dialogue and exchange.”
Zhang Huan conceived a provocatively playful production that blends the Greek myth of Semele with the contemporary true story of an ill-fated Chinese love triangle – all set within the walls of an actual 450-year-old Ming Dynasty temple, which weighs 17 tons and is transformed into an altar, a palace, a crematory, and heaven. This spectacular ancestral temple was bought and excavated by Zhang Huan from a village outside Shanghai. During excavation he discovered a diary of a former tenant, who upon finding out about his wife’s repeated adultery, murdered her lover – an eerie echo of Semele’s crime. The man was later arrested and executed. Zhang managed to trace the woman’s whereabouts and invited her to Brussels to appear in the performance.
For this bold and daring production of Semele, internationally renowned Canadian singer Jane Archibald reprises the role of Semele, which she sang with the COC in 2012. Archibald leads an esteemed cast of new and familiar faces to the COC. Canadian tenor Colin Ainsworth is the god Jupiter, and Welsh contralto Hilary Summers makes her COC debut portraying both Jupiter’s jealous wife, Juno, and Ino, Semele’s sister. Canadiansoprano Katherine Whyte returns to reprise the role of Juno’s messenger, Iris. Americanbass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen portrays Semele’s father, Cadmus, and the god of sleep, Somnus. American countertenor Lawrence Zazzo is Semele’s jilted suitor, Athamas.
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, and recreated by Willem Laarman.
Semele is scheduled at Howard Gilman Opera House for four performances only – March 4, 6,8 and 10, 2015. To purchase tickets online visit bam.org/semele or contact BAM Ticket Services at 718-636-4100.