SEMELE. Music by George Frideric Handel. Based on a Libretto by William Congreve. Study Guide for Pacific Opera Victoria’s Production. Semele, HWV 58 (Handel, George Frideric) .. Based on a libretto for an English opera ca after Ovid’s Metamorphoses, with added texts from Alexander. Title page of word-book to Semele. Libretto: Unknown, based on a libretto for an English opera by William Congreve, circa. , from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
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Unknown, based on a libretto for an English opera by William Congreve, circa. The Priests and Augurs proclaim that the omens for the marriage seem propitious, but Semele has been inventing one excuse after another to delay the wedding because she is secretly in love with Jupiter. She pleads to Jupiter for help, and his thunder interrupts the ceremony and extinguishes the sacrificial flames on the altar of Juno, his wife.
Ino reveals to the astonished Athamus that she loves him. Iris reports that Jupiter has built his new mortal lover an elaborate new palace on Mount Cithaeron, and warns that it is guarded by fierce dragons that never sleep.
The enraged Juno swears vengeance, and hastens to visit Somnus, the God of Sleep, in order to enlist his aid. Semele, attended by Loves and Zephyrs, yearns for Librdtto. He arrives, in human form, reassures her of his fidelity, and reminds her that she is only mortal and needs time to rest between their bouts of lovemaking. Semele professes devotion to him, but reveals her discontent that she has not been made immortal.
Semele – George Frideric Handel – Libretto in English –
Jupiter, recognising that Hanxel has dangerous ambition, transforms the palace to Arcadia, charms her with its pastoral delights, and magically summons her sister Ino to keep her company. The enraptured Ino describes the heavenly music she has heard on the way to Mount Cithaeron whilst carried by two winged Zephyrs. The sisters, and a chorus of nymphs and swains, sing of the joys of music.
He lethargically refuses to help Juno, but is enlivened when Juno promises him the reward of his favourite nymph, Pasithea. She assumes the form of Ino, pretends to believe that Semele has been made immortal, and gives Semele a magical mirror that deceives the foolish girl into thinking herself even more beautiful than usual.
Semele eagerly accepts this advice. Juno departs when she senses the approach of Jupiter. Inflamed by desire for Semele, Jupiter is astonished when she acts coldly toward him.
Semele, HWV 58 (Handel, George Frideric)
He rashly swears an irrevocable vow to grant her whatever she desires, and she demands that he visit her in his natural guise. He reacts with horror, knowing that his lightning bolts will certainly kill her, but Semele refuses to listen to reason, assuming that Jupiter does not wish to grant ssemele immortality. Juno gloats in triumph at her victory. Semele sees Jupiter descend as a fiery cloud of lightning and thunder, laments her folly, aemele dies consumed in flames.
Ino, safely returned to Boeotia, announces the tragic news semeke Semele has perished. However, some good has come of it: With the final performance of Deidamia in February Handel bade farewell to Italian opera. The success of his English oratorios, confirmed by the reception of Messiah in London inled him into a new creative phase.
But his company, as with the two Italian opera companies that had played in London before, was collapsing. I have found it a most dear undertaking! I was not in the management: Lord Middlesex was chief. We were thirty linretto, at two hundred pounds each, which was to last four years, and no other demands ever llbretto be made. Instead of that, we have been made to pay fifty-six pounds over and above the subscription in one winter.
I told the secretary in a passion, that it was the last money I would ever pay for the follies of directors. For his next work, Handel turned away from Old Testament texts to Greek mythology. Reviving a libretto that had been written by William Congreve inand possibly with the assistance of Newburgh Hamilton, Handel chose the story of Semele. It is clear from his re-arrangement of the text that he considered this work an Italian opera in all but name.
Semele was first performed at the Covent Garden Theatre on 10th February Handel already had many enemies in London at this time, and this direct challenge to the opera company in the Haymarket did not make him any new friends. Indeed, he had argued with the Prince of Wales himself.
The day after the first performance, Mary Delaney reported her impressions of Semele to her sister: But the audience was confused. Semele ran for just four performances initially, with two further performances in December of the same year.
The music for these last two was slightly re-written, and Handel interpolated arias from Arminio, Giustino and Alcina. But this was no more successful, and after Handel never revived Semele again.
Title page of word-book to Semele.