* Notes *
Last night the new season at De Munt opened with a rather bizarre production of Semele. Zhang Huan's production featured a 450 year old Ming temple, which was very lovely and worked perfectly well as a stage device. However, other elements did not integrate as gracefully, such as the Mongolian song that followed "Endless Pleasure," which though beautiful, was intentionally jarring. The huge mirror that appeared for "Myself I shall adore" was painfully obvious, and the sumo wrestling match at the end of Act II was simply outrageous. The Chinese dragon puppet at the end entertained, and it was tied to Jupiter because of associations with rain and weather. One was not sure what to make of the obvious Orientalism at hand, and wonders if Zhang is trying to reassure his Western audience or perhaps poking a bit of fun at it.
The Baroque ensemble Les Talens Lyriques sounded gorgeously clean and clear under the direction of Christophe Rousset. They were perfectly together and played absolutely splendidly. On the other hand, the chorus of De Munt were less than exact. Likewise, the singing from the principals was a hodgepodge, no one was particularly great, nor were they horrible.
Sarah Tynan sounded bird-like as Iris, though her upper register was shrill. Nathan Berg subsituted for Kurt Gysen as Somnus, and sang Cadmus, both roles sounded fine but not distinguished. David Hansen sounded reedy as Athamas, fairly bright but not very warm. I could not stop thinking of The Bonesetter's Daughter when I heard Ning Liang singing either Juno or Ino, her accent in English is unmistakeable. Her singing for Juno was quite jagged, she did get a feel for the character's vindictiveness in her voice. Jeremy Ovenden had some pretty moments as Jupiter, though his voice was underpowered. Though lacking in precision, Ying Huang too had some brilliance to her voice. Both the top and the bottom of her voice are not smooth, and have a tinselly quality. Her English diction was comprehensible.
* Tattling *
The two people at the head of the dragon puppet moved too early, before Jupiter had finished his last aria. The end of the work was cut by two scenes, and finished with Semele's death.
Members of the audience talked whenever there was no singing, sometimes at full volume. Thank goodness my host was good enough to hush the chief offenders near us. Not to be outdone by music or speech, people checked their emails and took photographs with cameras that made beeping sounds. The ovation was enthused but not prolonged.