Tonight I’m going to see Händel‘s 1743 opera Semele, which I adore, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in a production created by La Monnaie in Brussels and the KT Wong Foundation. It’s being performed by the Canadian Opera Company in a reprisal of their performances in the 2011/2012 season, with Canadian soprano Jane Archibald resuming the title role.
Looks pretty crazy, right? The key to this unusual production is the KT Wong Foundation, devoted to fostering dialogue in the arts and education between China and the West, which approached Chinese artist Zhang Huan with the idea of directing an opera. His inspiration was a 450 year old Chinese temple he bought and wound up using as the centerpiece of the production (watch it being assembled at BAM here).
Three Heads Six Arms by Zhang Huan in Florence, 2013
KT Wong has several videos about the project on Youtube and it’s certainly an interesting one! Besides performances at Brussels and Toronto, the show was also taken to Beijing (where it was censored, natch)
Now, as a first-time opera director, Chinese person unfamiliar with Western opera, and a fancy-shmancy artist, Zhang is not beholden to opera’s sacred cows and has taken a pretty radical approach. Besides the weirdo stage elements, he’s omitted some of Handel’s music (a capital offense in my book) and inserted several anachronistic Chinese elements. So some weird hybrid of baroque opera and modern performance piece which I’m admittedly having a hard time preparing myself for… I’ve seen reviews run the gamut from negative to glowingly positive, so we’ll see which what side I’ll land on…
In any other situation calling this concurrent production of Semele at the Seattle Opera the more traditional one might seem strange, but heck, this is just old school in comparison! Opera News seemed to like this one a lot more, at least…
It’s great to see Semele performed by a smaller, regional companies, and if Zhang Huan’s production spurs renewed interest in this very deserving opera, than that’s a good thing!
The stage maquette for Semele by Zhang Huan at La Monnaie
And for no other reason than because I like their Digital Archive, here is a set maquette from La Monnaie!