Semele opens Opera Popolare season
by Lily Olason
Opera is in full swing on Garden Street. Courtesy of the Garden Street United Methodist Church and Opera Popolare, Georg Fridiric Handel’s masterpiece Semele rings beautifully in the most exquisite of performance spaces. It oohs and it ahhs, it soars and it flips and turns and utilizes every nook and cranny of the place perfectly. A true taste of the classics has found Bellingham, and with it an undeniable local flavor.
Though such a tale may easily be found in any compilation of classical myths, we’re operating under the assumption one doesn’t conveniently stock a copy in their pocket. Semele begins with a wedding, one that’s slated to marry its reluctant title character (Serena Viens/Caitlin Hill) to an equally reluctant fellow named Athamus (Chris Mitchell). Lucky for Semele, though, and Athamus, too: Jupiter (Carlo Furlan), the bride’s true love, arrives in the nick of time and carries her away in the form of an eagle, which predictably enrages his wife of many millennia, Juno (Celie Thomas). By posing as her sister and planting the seeds of doubt in her love-struck brain, Juno implores Semele to ask Jupiter to reveal himself in his true Olympian form, far too much for any mortal to handle.
Serena Viens and Caitlin Hill share the title role, alternating with the portrayal of Iris. Each boasts an incredible set of chops, outstanding, really, in acrobatic feats that surprise and delight. Semele soars high, high, high, beautifully, in the style that is so perfectly operatic and so very indicative of artistic inclination and hard work. Iris does too, secretary to an angry goddess and comic relief nonetheless. Neither fails to thrill, in either role, and are simply a joy to hear.
Carlo Furlan sings swarthy and less-than-faithful Jupiter perfectly, complementing Hill’s and Vien’s performances wonderfully and adding an extra layer of depth to the performance. His white and purple suit suits the godly role to a T, and his tenor fills to the back of the hall.
Likewise, Cadmus (Matthew Dunn), Ino (Lesley Rigg), Somnus (John Poppke) Athamus (Chris Mitchell), and an exceptional chorus make this opera what it is. They sing from everywhere, the wings, the balcony, the back doors, all with passion and all with talent. They give the background and little snippets of dialog and the large-scale emotion that packs the end of the piece.
The orchestra, of course, provides flawless support. Incredible talent occupies the space to the audience’s right, including wonderful work on violin by Laura Barnes and Jeanette Wickell, equally great Jane Perkins on viola, and ominously well-blended cello by Adrienne Syvertson. Calyx Hoag and Kathlyn Kinney display some exceptional woodwind prowess, while Katie O’Rourke’s lovely harpsichord work was Brilliantly baroque.
Semele is a performance one, no matter their background in opera, Handel, or Roman mythology, shouldn’t let pass by. It’s presented in the abridged format (running just under an hour and a half, as opposed to three), so even the most novice, or knowledgeable, of opera lovers may enjoy all this incredible performance has to offer.
Semele runs through Saturday, August 10, at the Garden Street Methodist Church, 1326 North Garden Street in Bellingham. Tickets are $12 at the door, at the Community Food Co-ops and at the Opera Popolare site where you can find curtain times.
Artistic Director Rob Viens always asks the audience how many have been to Opera Popolare before and how many have been to any opera before. The results make the mission statement ring true: bringing opera to the people and people to the opera.
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