Handelís Semele was composed in June and July 1743
to a text by William Congreve. Originally adapted from Ovidís Metamorphoses
for John Eccles, this work was never performed during Ecclesí lifetime.
First performed in February 1744, Semele did not have the popularity
of many of Handelís other oratorios. Telling the story of the Greek
gods and their sexual affairs, was not perhaps appreciated by Handelís
This recording, dating from 1975, features many front-rank
singers in their prime: Felicity Palmer, Robert Tear, Sheila Armstrong
and others. While Somaryís work is certainly sturdy and imaginative,
it is dated. Handel is not performed in the same manner today. His choirs
are dense, and his orchestra a bit stiff, but the beauty of the music
irons out such small details.
The recording is mediocre. It is very flat. All the
musicians and singers sound as though they are on the same plane. In
addition, the balance between some of the singers, during duets and
recitatives, is not very good. This detracts slightly from the overall
impression of this recording. Some of the singing is brilliant, leading
the listener to almost forget the drawbacks.
Sheila Armstrong is a fine Semele. She shines in her
arias, her voice ringing out with clarity and energy. In the final act,
she has many memorable moments, especially the long aria in scene three
of the third act. At times, however, it is hard to understand what she
is singing from overuse of vibrato. This is an operatic voice, not a
baroque voice. She uses a great deal of energy, sometimes detracting
slightly from the overall musicality of the work.
I regret the lack of any information about the recording.
While the liner notes discuss the plot, there is not even a list of
the titles of the arias and choruses. There is a track list, but it
says nothing more than "aria" or "recitative". Needless
to say, there is no libretto either, but thatís par for the course with
Regisís budget reissues. It would be nice if they could at least make
these texts available on their web site.
This is a very good, though dated recording of one
of Handelís less popular oratorios. The fine singers give very good
performances, and the music is excellent.