Music: Händel’s Opera Semele

It was a goodbye and farewell concert. Friends had asked me along to a free dress rehearsal of the Residentie Orchestra at their present base. This still is the Anton Philipszaal – until next week.

Mayor and council – definitely not the citizens, nor even the buildings’ restaurant and café owners – have decided to tear down the whole complex. Despite the city being short of funds and the government cutting culture budgets by halves.

Orchestra members, dancers, staff are made redundant. But hey: mayor and council want an even more modern white elephant with … a Champagne deck and other bubbles which have nothing to do with culture, music, art. To realise the new white elephant, not only has the present complex have to be destroyed. Restaurants and even hotels in its vicinity will have to be bought up to be torn down. The present “champagne deck” and small restaurants in the complex are seldom overflowing with customers. The to be created white elephant is, however, a prestige-project of the present conservative mayor and his cronies in the council.

So my friends ensured I was at the Anton Philipszaal for a last free lunch concert by the fabulous Residentie Orchestra. From next week onwards, their home base will be in the Zuider Theatre in Scheveningen. How long they, the NDT, and others will be banned to that out-of-the-way theatre, is not clear. The white elephant project will undoubtedly run into problems during the planned time it is supposed to take now.

The free half-hour lunch-concerts are always pot-luck. This time, we were extremely lucky. The cast and orchestra were rehearsing a few scenes of an opera. For Händel’s Semele will be performed Friday evening and Sunday afternoon in The Hague. Semele will then be performed in Rotterdam during Rotterdam’s Opera Days.

Richard Egarr quite rightly shut up the orchestra’s sales spoke-person: the audience had come to hear music, not the latest moan about the move, cheap deal for tickets, or what a silly businessman Händel had been. (Apparently, first performances caused a bankruptcy.) Quite: if only the mayor, council, and their white elephant could have been sent off stage so deftly and diplomatic – yet fast and forever.

Mr Egarr quickly introduced his audience to the act and scene which would start the rehearsal: Gods, brothers, sisters – the whole dysfunctional ado. He presumed the audience to be familiar with such drama. Laura Bohn, the soprano cast as Juno, started the aria which would turn into a duet with Claron McFadden, who takes care of the role of  Semele.

During the first sotto voce parts, the orchestra could be heard very clearly yet both sopranos and especially ms Bohn hardly. Well, I was sitting towards the back of the hall. Yet this rather worried me.

For the orchestra was playing in a modified, reduced combination to which were added early music instruments, like a theorbo. It seemed, however, to be something of a sounds system problem. For when Claron McFadden used her voice’s full volume and range, she certainly blotted out the orchestra and dazed the audience.

This problem of finding a balance between orchestra and singers disappeared during the thirty minutes the concert lasted. After ms Bohn and ms McFadden, it was tenor Kevin Walton’s turn. Well, Jupiter certainly impressed the audience. The orchestra did not get any chance to reduce him into an inaudible performance.

The concert concluded with a very moving, beautiful duet of ms Bohn and ms McFadden. By then, there were no problems hearing them throughout the hall, regardless of the emotions they had to convey through signing. This duet could not have been more brilliant, more moving, more captivating.

The audience was still so spell-bound, they did not realise the rehearsal had finished and conductor and singers and orchestra were already standing and bowing. It took a moment for everybody sitting there, to catch up with reality. But then the standing ovation started and young fans started to whistle and shout cat-calls. Händel would have been extremely pleased and satisfied.

We were sorely tempted to use the two-for-one ticket-deal, valid only for those who had attended this free rehearsal. Unfortunately, the diaries for Friday evening and Sunday afternoon were full. If yours isn’t – this Semele is strongly recommended. It will be a fitting goodbye and farewell to the Anton Philipszaal, or a brilliant performance during the Rotterdam Opera Days.

Short public rehearsal for Händel’s Semele which will be performed  21st of May and 24th of May 2015 in The Hague; 29th and 30th of May in Rotterdam with:
Richard Egarr – conductor
Claron McFadden – soprano – Semele
Laura Bohn – soprano – Juno
Kevin Walton – tenor – Jupiter
The Hague Residentie Orchestra website

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