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Review of Eccles's Semele

29 November 2019

The Academy of Ancient Music did full justice to the score, under the direction of Julian Perkins on the harpsichord, with Peter Holman playing the harpsichord continuo. Virtuoso wielding of the thunder sheet by Elaine So provided essential punctuation to Semele’s rise and fall.

All the vocal soloists were excellent. Anna Dennis sang Semele with her pure, powerful soprano and was a commanding stage presence. She has the ability to take rather ordinary notes and give them point and meaning. The mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston did full justice to the role of the furious Juno, full of spiteful passion, her coloratura passages proving her to be the real prima donna here.

The baritone Richard Burkhard was a convincing Jupiter, smooth and resonant. Semele’s abandoned swain Athamas was sung by William Wallace in a pleasing tenor and the infatuated Ino by Aoife Miskelly, employing light operatic vibrato in an affecting ‘You’ve undone me’. Héloïse Bernard’s light, sweet soprano made her a beguiling Iris with real personality. Cupid suffered the loss of an aria but Bethany Horak-Hallett’s rich soprano shone. The tenor Rory Carver projected well as the Second Priest/First Augur and the remaining low voices – including Christopher Foster as Somnus, Jonathan Brown as Cadmus and Graeme Broadbent as the Chief Priest – carried off their roles with conviction. As Apollo announcing the birth of Bacchus, the baritone Jolyon Loy was a suave, commanding and suitably joyful presence.

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