Semele

Las Vegas has been the gateway to several of my fondest Western outdoor adventures. I dislike parts of Vegas, but then again, I am fascinated with the city as well (in a this-is-so-cheesy-but-I-can’t-take-my-eyes-off-of-it kind of way.) It’s odd to have this flashy raunchy place connected in my mind with such classic gorgeous hiking trips. It’s an incongruous pairing. And that’s pretty much how I felt about the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Semele at BAM last night. The story of Semele being burnt to ash by Jupiter appearing to her in his true form is really compelling. I always enjoy Handel’s frilly music and Jane Archibald’s divine voice was well suited for the role of Semele. Her gorgeous moments of coloratura in this opera were a thrill to hear. The chorus was fantastic as well. But just as I would slip into the pleasures of the music, I would be distracted by some silly gag like Sumo wrestlers. Or copulating couples. Or a donkey with a hard-on. Which brings me to Chinese artist Zhang Huan’s set design and direction. I was impressed that he chose to literally reconstruct a 450-year-old Chinese temple — weighing 17 tons — on BAM’s stage. I absolutely loved the costumes and lush fabrics. The scene with a sleepy god, Somnus, on the roof of the temple was fabulous. So was the mirror scene. I also enjoyed the gentle humor of the staging and acting — to a point. When the goofiness took my attention completely away from the music, that’s when it felt more like a disruption. That said, it was a fun evening despite disruptions of another kind: audience outbursts. Someone heckled the film segment at the beginning. Another disgruntled woman in the balcony shouted at the person behind her for kicking her seat. I sat in my own cramped balcony seat and thought to myself, “Geez, there must be a full moon tonight.”  And you know what? I looked up when I left the theater, and there was!

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