by George Frideric Handel • May 8, 11, 14, 16, 18, 20, 2021
Semele is a Baroque gem by master composer George Frideric Handel. It is timeless tale from Greek antiquity about the pitfalls of ambition, vanity, and making open-ended promises.
Princess Semele wants to live her best life. To her, that doesn’t mean marrying Athamas, a mere human prince. She has her eyes on a bigger prize, none other than Jove (Jupiter), King of the Gods, who she thinks will fulfill her in ways no mortal ever could.
Jove is a cad, who is all too happy to add Semele to his long list of human mistresses. His wife Juno is none too pleased, and hatches a sure-fire plan for revenge. Appearing as Semele’s sister Ino, Juno tricks Semele into making a fatal request.
Jove, inflamed with passion, swears to give Semele whatever she desires. Semele insists that he appear to her in all his divine glory. Realizing this would kill her, since no human can withstand the awesome power of his thunderbolts, Jove tries in vain to change her mind. Undaunted, Semele insists. Being unable to rescind his oath to grant her request, Jove reluctantly complies, and the ensuing thunderbolts consume Semele in flames.
Join us for Pittsburgh Opera’s first-ever performances of Handel’s Semele, with a stylish Roaring Twenties Art Deco production conducted by Music Director Antony Walker and directed by Kristine McIntyre.
Pittsburgh Opera is pleased to partner with Chatham Baroque for Semele. Founded in 1990, Chatham Baroque continues to excite local, national, and international audiences with dazzling technique and lively interpretations of 17th- and 18th-century music played on authentic period instruments.
Sung in English, with supertitles projected above the stage.
License by arrangement with Oxford University Press
The Semele Cast
The Semele Creative Team
- Conductor Antony Walker
- Head of Music/Assistant Conductor Glenn Lewis (conducting final two performances)
- Stage Director Kristine McIntyre
- Set Designer Carey Xu+
- Costume Designer Jason Bray
- Lighting Designer Todd Nonn
- Projection Designer Lawrence Shea+
- Stage Manager Alex W Seidel
- Assistant Stage Director Kaley Karis Smith*
- Director of Musical Studies/Chorus Master Mark Trawka
+ Pittsburgh Opera debut
* Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist
** Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist alumni
We want you to have the best experience possible at our performances!
- Study Guide for SEMELE (PDF), created by our Education department.
- The Audio Study Guide is also available 24/7 by dialing the Pittsburgh Opera phone number 412-281-0912 and entering extension 266. The audio lasts about 20 minutes.
- Run time for SEMELE: 1 hour and 25 minutes, no intermission
- Understand Every Word: Egnlish supertitles projected above the stage at all performances
- Audio Description available
- Large-Print Programs available
Cadmus, a powerful patriarch, is preparing for the marriage of his daughter Semele to Athamas, scion of another rich family. Signs from Juno, the Goddess of Marriage, indicate she approves of the match (Chorus: Lucky omens bless our rites.)
However, the bride has been inventing one excuse after the other to put off the wedding and her father and would-be bridegroom urge her to hesitate no longer (Duet: Daughter, hear! Hear and obey!)
To herself, Semele reflects on her dilemma – she does not wish to marry Athamas as she is in love with Jove himself, the King of the Gods, and calls on him to assist her (Accompanied recitative: Ah me! What refuge now is left me; arioso: O Jove! In pity teach me which to choose).
Ino, Semele's sister, expresses her own state of distress as she is in love with Athamas (Quartet: Why dost thou thus untimely grieve?)
Jove has heard Semele's prayer and his thunderbolts interrupt the proceedings and alarm the observers (Chorus: Cease, cease your vows), which all do except for Athamas, in despair at his wedding being cancelled, and Ino, hopelessly in love with him (Aria: Turn, hopeless lover).
Athamas is astonished when she tells him bluntly that she loves him (Duet: You've undone me).
Cadmus interrupts their confusion and describes the extraordinary event he has just witnessed: as they fled the temple Semele was suddenly carried off by an eagle (Accompanied recitative: Wing'd with our fears).
As the act ends, Semele is seen enjoying her role as Jove’s new mistress (Aria: Endless pleasure, endless love).
Iris, Goddess of the Rainbow, arrives in a beautiful pastoral landscape and is soon joined by Juno, spurned wife of Jove and Queen of the Gods. Suspicious of her husband's conduct, Juno has sent Iris to find out what she can. Iris reports that Jove has installed Semele as his mistress in a palace atop a mountain (Recitative: Iris, impatient of thy stay)
The outraged Juno swears to have revenge (Accompanied recitative: Awake, Saturnia, from thy lethargy!) and then decides that she and Iris will pay a visit to the god of sleep in his cave, in order to get magical assistance for her plan to win Jove back (Aria: Hence, Iris, hence away).
An apartment in the palace of Semele.
Semele awakes and regrets that the dream she was having of being with her lover has ended (Aria: O sleep, why dost thou leave me?).
When Jove enters, in the form of a young man, she tells him how difficult it is for her when he is absent. He explains that she is a mortal, unlike him, and needs to rest from their love-making from time to time. He attempts to assure her of his fidelity (Aria: Lay your doubts and fears aside).
Semele, however, is beginning to be unhappy that her lover is a god and she a mere mortal. This sign of an ambition to immortality in Semele worries Jove who decides he must distract her from such thoughts (Aria: I must with speed amuse her).
Jove has arranged for Semele's sister Ino to be magically transported to the palace, to keep her company, and promises that the gardens and environs will be paradise (Aria: Where'er you walk).
He leaves, and Ino appears, describing the wondrous experience of being flown there by winged zephyrs (Aria: But hark! The heav’nly sphere turns round).
The sisters sing of the joy they are experiencing, hearing the music of the spheres (Duet: Prepare then, ye immortal choir) and a celestial choir declares that this part of the earth has become a heaven (Chorus: Bless the glad earth).
The Cave of Sleep. Somnus, the God of Sleep, lying on his bed.
Juno and Iris arrive and wake Somnus (Accompanied recitative: Somnus, awake), to his displeasure (Aria: Leave me, loathsome light).
He only gets out of bed when he hears Juno mention the beautiful nymph Pasithea (Aria: More sweet is that name).
Juno promises he will have the nymph if he will lend her his magical aid. She tells him to put to sleep the dragons that guard the palace where Semele is ensconced as her husband's mistress, and transform Juno herself into the likeness of Semele's sister Ino. Somnus agrees (Duet: Obey my will).
Juno, now in the form of Ino, enters and feigns astonishment at Semele's increased beauty. She exclaims that Semele must have become a goddess herself and gives her a mirror (Recitative: Behold in this mirror).
Semele is enraptured by her own beauty (Aria: Myself I shall adore). "Ino" advises Semele to insist that Jove appear to her in his real, godlike form, and that will make her immortal herself (Accompanied recitative: Conjure him by his oath).
"Ino" leaves and Jove enters, eager to enjoy Semele (Aria: Come to my arms, my lovely fair) but she puts him off (Aria: I ever am granting).
He swears to give her whatever she desires (Accompanied recitative: By that tremendous flood, I swear) and she makes him promise to appear to her in his godlike form (Accompanied recitative: Then cast off this human shape).
He is alarmed and says that would harm her (Aria: Ah, take heed what you press), but she insists he keep his oath (Aria: No, no, I'll take no less) and leaves.
Jove knows this will mean her destruction and mourns her impending doom (Accompanied recitative: Ah, whither is she gone!).
Juno triumphs in the success of her scheme (Aria: Above measure is the pleasure).
Semele, granted her wish to see Jove in his true godlike form, is consumed by his thunderbolts, and as she dies she regrets her own foolishness and ambition (Accompanied recitative: Ah me! Too late I now repent).
Watching this, her family express their amazement (Chorus: Oh, terror and astonishment!). Ino then reveals that she has been told by the gods that she should marry her beloved Athamus, who readily agrees to this proposition. All celebrate the fortunate outcome (Chorus: Happy, happy shall we be)
- Mt. Lebanon Magazine - Down in Front!
- Broadway World - Pittsburgh Opera Reschedules SEMELE from February to May 2021
- OperaWire - Pittsburgh Opera Delays Handel’s SEMELE
- TribLIVE - Pittsburgh Opera postpones 1st-ever staging of Handel’s SEMELE
- Broadway World - Pittsburgh Opera To Perform Art Deco Production Of SEMELE Next Month
- Observer Reporter - Pittsburgh Opera to present "Semele" for live audiences May 8-20
- Opera Wire - Pittsburgh Opera to Present Handel’s ‘Semele’
- Broadway World - Photos: First Look at the Cast of SEMELE at Pittsburgh Opera
- Herald Standard - Pittsburgh Opera to present "Semele" for live audiences May 8-20
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Pittsburgh Opera gives 'Semele' a 1920s art deco twist
- OperaGene - Modern Jazz and Baroque Opera: Not as Different as You Might Think
- Strip District Neighbors - Will we see you in person soon?
- Entertainment Central Pittsburgh - May ‘21 Theater Guide
- WQED-FM - Voice of the Arts podcast interviews
- Broadway World - Photos: Pittsburgh Opera Presents SEMELE
- City Paper - Seven Days in Pittsburgh: May 13-19: This week’s must-see arts and cultural events
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette- Review: Striking visuals bring ‘Semele’ to life at Pittsburgh Opera
- OperaGene - Review: PITTSBURGH OPERA’S SEMELE: ENDLESS PLEASURE, ENDLESS LOVE