“Still more than when I first performed it and recorded it almost forty years ago, I feel Semele’s time has finally come.” So writes Sir John Eliot Gardiner in a note to this brilliant live recording of Gardiner’s latest take on Handel’s “bawdy Opera,” as Messiah librettist Charles Jennens called it.
Indeed. In a world awash with narcissistic influencers and over-ambitious mediocrities, hubris seems to Trump humility every time. And yet there are still conductors such as Gardiner, and ensembles such as the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists, which have for decades dedicated themselves to patiently honing their craft and revealing the glories of the past.
It is also heartening to see young soloists of the calibre of Gardiner’s Semele here, soprano Louise Alder, choosing to dedicate so much time and effort to the exacting discipline of the solo song recital. All, it seems, is not lost. Unless you’re actually the hapless Semele, fried to a crisp when her lover Jupiter, on her insistence, revealed his true self in all his fiery splendour.
As Congreve’s libretto (after Ovid) tells...