Director James Darrah rehearsing Semele, with Haeran Hong as the title heroine.

Image: Steve Korn

Music lovers in the Seattle area will not want to miss this weekend’s performances of  Handel’s oratorio Semele, a joint effort by Pacific MusicWorks and the University of Washington School of Music. Seattle has tended to be a Handel-deprived zone for far too long, but Stephen Stubbs—the visionary artistic director of Pacific MusicWorks—is changing the playing field with his musically and theatrically stimulating advocacy of early and baroque composers. An internationally acclaimed musical director and lutenist, Stubbs marries the energies of his early music expertise with an appreciation of cutting-edge stage direction and interdisciplinary artistic creativity.

Semele is a late Handel work (1743) that never fit comfortably into the era’s expectations for either opera or oratorio. Yet, it’s easy enough to imagine the musical and theatrical potential Handel saw in this material, retooling a libretto more than 30 years old—it includes the work of Alexander Pope—which itself retells the classical myth of Semele and Zeus/Jupiter. The human Semele has a fateful love affair with none other than the king of the gods, triggering the jealousy of his wife. Juno’s plan to avenge herself results in the destruction of Semele as a mortal woman but leads to the birth of Dionysus/Bacchus—a boon for humanity.

In this production, the director, James Darrah, and his cast treat the work as the liveliest brand of music theater, full of humor, wit, enchantment, and (literally and figuratively) epiphany.

To read more about this production of Semele, visit arts writer Thomas May's Memeteria blog.

May 16-18, Meany Hall, $40

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