Of all the Handel soprano roles, Semele has Danielle de Niese's name on it. Does any other Handel leading lady get to play so much the comedienne, or flirt so unabashedly with the audience?

True to form, her performance for Christophe Rousset and his crisp Parisian ensemble Les Talens Lyriques had De Niese charming, cajoling and pouting her way through the role of the ambitious airhead who fails to realise that an affair with a deity may leave her literally as well as figuratively burnt. Vocally, however, the focus fell on Vivica Genaux, doubling as downtrodden Ino and devious Juno, and dispatching the latter's musical acrobatics with steely bravura.

Claire Debono, who made a sparkling impression in Cupid's two arias, will be a Semele herself if she can sort out her diction. That complaint could apply to several of the cast, the exception being Peter Rose, excellent in the two bass cameos. The surtitles, which should have been superfluous, were vital for decoding the French chorus's not-quite English.

The ensemble had just finished a run at Paris's Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. As so often when the Barbican imports a work staged fully elsewhere, there was unease about how dramatic this concert presentation was going to be. All were rooted at the front except for Semele in her aria bemoaning her insomnia, in which De Niese reclined on a chair at the back, bare-shouldered, bejewelled – and, for most of the audience, framed by two balding chorus members. One day the Barbican will give us some Handel that looks as good as it sounds.

Contributor

Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Semele review – Handel's celestial opera remade as a Technicolor romcom
Annilese Miskimmon’s beautifully sung but sardonic production lends the saga of the gods some of the vividness and surreality of early 60s Hollywood

Tim Ashley

02, Jun, 2017 @11:08 AM

Article image
The Enchanted Island: the isle is full of mash-ups

A new opera, made from chopped-up bits of baroque music and The Tempest, is about to hit UK cinemas. Its creator Jeremy Sams relives a labour of love

Jeremy Sams

10, Jan, 2012 @10:00 PM

Article image
Glyndebourne's Giulio Cesare made me understand baroque opera, writes Tom Service

Tom Service: Don't hate me because I've got a ticket; this landmark production of Giulio Cesare is also compelling on DVD

Tom Service

27, May, 2009 @3:41 PM

Article image
Ravel double-bill review – inventive, witty ... and unbalanced
Danielle de Niese commands the stage and there are irresistible moments in both one-act operas, but with differing production values, the evening doesn’t gel as a whole

Martin Kettle

12, Aug, 2015 @12:39 PM

Opera review: Giulio Cesare, Glyndebourne

Glyndebourne
Witty, sexy and tragic, it is the best thing Glyndebourne has done in the last decade, says Martin Kettle

Martin Kettle

24, May, 2009 @11:04 PM

Article image
L'elisir d'amore – review
It is the warmth of the show that lingers more than the laughs, though that's not to say it isn't funny, writes Erica Jeal

Erica Jeal

13, Jun, 2011 @12:13 PM

Article image
Don Pasquale – review

Don Pasquale can be cruel, but Mariame Clément's production allows for a few guilty laughs, writes Erica Jeal

Erica Jeal

19, Jul, 2013 @5:22 PM

Article image
Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Glyndebourne review - energy and spirit but the comedy is hit and miss
There’s much to enjoy in Annabel Arden’s new production of Rossini’s comedy, and it is musically impressive once it gets going

Tim Ashley

24, May, 2016 @4:21 PM

Article image
Last Night of the Proms review – Alsop controls the crowd with ease
Marin Alsop conducted the BBCSO through a glamorous evening of classical barnstormers, singalongs, politics and knicker-throwing adulation

Erica Jeal

13, Sep, 2015 @2:05 PM

Article image
Orlando – review
Tim Mead is captivating in Scottish Opera's moving and provocative second world war take on Handel's drama, writes Kate Molleson

Kate Molleson

16, Feb, 2011 @6:17 PM