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Customer Reviews

Not endlessly pleasurable

I must confess myself a newcomer to Handel opera; my only previous exposure has been in the form of excerpts. But Semele has always interested me, mostly due to Juno and Jupiter’s airs (“Hence, Iris, Hence Away” and the popular “Where’er you walk”). One evening it was my pleasure to hear quite a bit of the Grammy-winning Nelson recording broadcast over the radio, which led me to pursue renditions of airs and duets online (which I also enjoyed), and finally to check this recording out of my local library. It is certainly not terrible, but in the end it comes across as rather dull and lifeless. The only performances that make it truly worthwhile belong to Rosemary Joshua and Richard Croft, though both might have benefited from an early recording date; excerpts from a ’95 Aix-en-Provence performance, for instance, showcase Ms. Joshua in creamier voice and more dynamic involvement with the character of Semele. This is still a respectable performance, but not one to stay in the memory in the manner of, say, Cecilia Bartoli’s assumption of the role. Croft’s recitatives are the most vivid on the disc, and if his “Where’er you walk” cannot compare to John Aler’s for sheer mellifluousness, “I must with speed amuse her” is remarkable for its torrents of concerned coloratura, especially considering the unusual darkness of Croft’s instrument. Unfortunately, no one else rises to the standard set by the two leads. In the double contralto role, Hilary Summers interprets a few lines very well but is usually unconvincing. “Turn, hopeless lover” becomes a vocalize where it should be a desperate plea for Athamus’ love, though in general she is better as the cast-off Ino than as the jealous Juno: “Hence, Iris, Hence Away” lacks incisiveness in the extreme. It doesn’t help that her instrument resmbles that of a less-than-mediocre countertenor. Speaking of mediocre countertenors, Stephen Wallace is bottom-heavy and indistinct as Athamus. (Where are Michael Chance and David Daniels when you need them?) I liked Brindley Sherrat’s rumbly bass as Cadmus, but unfortunately his vibrato gets in the way during “Leave me, loathsome light,” and “More sweet is that name,” though better, comes cross as something a jolly, drunken old man might sing at a wedding. I have read that we are still awaiting the ideal recording of Semele (something that could be said, I might add, for just about everything), but I doubt that this is the best on the market. I would suggest the Nelson recording, which contains mega-watt stars in every role, some of them very well-cast indeed. Meanwhile, this is a fine document, but only for fans of Croft and Joshua.

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