Semele, George Frideric Handel’s little known baroque piece, was given a modern twist by St Andrew’s Opera Society in a 1920s retelling of the classic myth at the Byre Theatre on the 27th and 28th February.
Act One opened with the orchestra launching into Handel’s vivacious overture. Despite a degree of initial nervousness, they were quick to settle, reciting Handel’s complex scales with accomplishment.
Some of the cast appeared to be initially apprehensive, as well. After a little warming up to the atmosphere and audience, however, Christina Bell as Semele, Oliver Lineham and Lauren Macleod shined brightest from the end of the Act, delivering commendable performances. Bell’s rendition of “Endless Pleasure, Endless Love” was a watershed for the production. Draped in only a bed sheet, Bell embraces the scandalous, her fiery acting finally matching her superb vocal ability.
Consistently strong performances were given by Imogen Welch, Meg Inglis, and Teddy Day, the latter two notably bringing depth and complexity to their characters. However, it was Alice Gold’s Juno that must be particularly praised for creating a new, exciting dynamic to the production. Clad in 1920s glamour, Gold strutted around the stage as the deliciously wicked queen of Manhattan society. Her performance captivated and electrified the audience.
Gold raised the bar high for her counterpart Andrew Mundy, playing the supposedly “infamous mobster” and kingpin of the Manhattan underbelly, Jove. Whether that bar was met is debatable. Mundy’s voice was absolutely pitch perfect, differing from the operatic tones displayed from the rest of the cast, but great all the same. However, his character came across more as a naughty choice boy figure, rather than an omnipotent mobster. High expectations for a gritty interpretation were put on Mundy, and his performance was overall admirable for Handel’s original love struck lackey.
The performance, staging and themes were, on the whole, enjoyable and deserved the standing ovation received at the finale. With that said, the opera’s variously merged time periods would have been more successful with a deepened exploration of certain themes and characters.