Opera Scotland

Semele 1933Dundee Amateur Choral Union

Read more about the opera Semele

Much as its main arias were admired, Semele was very rarely staged, and not often performed even in concert, between the wars.

Jupiter's big aria, 'Where'er you walk' was, after all, standard fare in all school singing books well into the sixties, so that, at least, was familiar. Perhaps the elegantly risqué text by Congreve put people off what was, after all, generally billed as an oratorio. Here, a choir totalling 300, backed by the substantial forces of the Scottish Orchestra, gave a performance that was clearly enjoyable, though rather different in style compared to what would be acceptable today.

The wonderful Scottish soprano Isobel Baillie rarely sang in opera, but her sweet, silvery tone was perfectly suited to Handel's music, and she sang Messiah hundreds of times. Semele must have made a pleasant change, and she clearly sang it beautifully. Henry Wendon spent some of his career singing lyric roles with the Carl Rosa company, and he also seems to have given a stylish interpretation.

Details of the performance are from a review in the Dundee Courier and Advertiser. This mentions only four soloists. Isobel Baillie is specified as singing the title role, Wendon Jupiter, Stewart Juno, and Cranmer Somnus and 'various bass roles'. It is usual for the alto cast as Juno to double as Ino (since she does impersonate that character at one point) while the bass generally sings both Cadmus and Somnus. The reference to 'various bass roles' implies he may also have sung Athamas, as counter-tenors were not a familiar feature of 1930s musical life. Just who sang Iris and Apollo is also to be confirmed, but they are not long roles and may have been voiced by the two leads.

Further research is needed.

Performance Cast

Cadmus King of Thebes

Arthur Cranmer

Semele daughter of Cadmus

Isobel Baillie

Ino sister of Semele

Catherine Stewart

Athamas a Prince of Boeotia

Arthur Cranmer

Juno

Catherine Stewart

Iris Juno's attendant

Isobel Baillie

Jupiter

Henry Wendon

Somnus

Arthur Cranmer

Apollo

Henry Wendon

Performance DatesSemele 1933

Map List

Caird Hall | Dundee

8 Feb, 19.30

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