Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us


Opera Fuoco – “From Semele to Ino

Danielle de Niese – soprano

Paul Agnew - tenor

Directed by David Stern

St John's Smith Square – 22 May 2006


Handel – Semele HWV 58 – extracts

Telemann – Ino Cantata TWV20.41


Telemann – Music de Table III – Bergerie - Furioso

Handel – Water Music Suite – Allegro – Andante – Menuet - Air



Parallels in music of Handel and Telemann make for good pairing, but I had not realised that these two composers also shared an interest in gardening and that they exchanged notes and even plants over a long period of correspondence. This piece of trivia seemed pertinent on the eve of the Chelsea Flower Show, especially since we were just a brisk walk away from this horticultural bonanza.


Despite a chilly and wet evening, a good crowd had turned out to see a glamorous young soprano who had wowed her audience as a most beguiling Cleopatra at last year's Glyndebourne Festival.


This evening Danielle de Niese was portraying the two daughters of Cadmus – Semele in extracts from Handel's secular oratorio and Ino in Telemann's solo cantata. These works are in many ways analogous: both being written late in their composer's life and both operatic in temperament.


The sisters led eventful lives, Semele abandoned her husband to be, Athamus, for a life of endless pleasure in the arms of the god Jupiter, but she was tricked into demanding to see him in his godly form and was burnt to death in the flames of his fiery majesty.


It is the exchanges between Semele and Jupiter that inspire the finest music. Danielle de Niese was joined on the platform by Paul Agnew and between them they provided a generous selection of these wonderful pieces.


Paul Agnew is a baroque specialist, stylistically a purist and delivering his recitatives and arias with grace and elegance, perfect clarity of diction and with a finely judged use of ornament. By contrast, Danielle de Niese is a natural theatre creature, rejoicing in every opportunity for drama and action. Her performances are truthful, highly personalised, deeply emotional and passionately realised. These attributes play well on the stage, but risky tempos and a sad lack of distinguishable words leave her rather exposed on the concert platform.


Athamus next turns his affections to Semele's sister Ino and they marry. But it's far from a case of living happily ever after. Athamus goes mad, kills one of their sons whilst Ino and her remaining child flee for their lives. It is at this point that Telemann's cantata takes up the story in Ino's own words “Whither shall I fly … like a hunted chamois … leaping from cliff to cliff”, and eventually plunging into the sea. The music and delivery were just as exciting as the chase, but tranquillity and a happy ending are at last established with the sea nymphs and tritons welcoming the fugitives into their underwater kingdom.


Opera Fuoco, a Paris based orchestra whose tenet is that music in opera must always serve the interests of the text and dramatic content take priority, certainly lived up to their principles. I also enjoyed their two “interludes”, particularly the extracts from Handel's Water Music, where the two ladies (Renee Allen and Karen Libischewski) who played those wonderfully dramatic looking period horns with such bravura deserved special praise.


Serena Fenwick

© Peter Grahame Woolf