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Handel - Semele / Battle, Horne, Ramey, Aler, McNair, Chance, ECO, Nelson
George Fridric Handel, John Nelson, Kathleen Battle
Handel - Semele / Battle, Horne, Ramey, Aler, McNair, Chance, ECO, Nelson
Genre: Classical
 
  •  Track Listings (23) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (20) - Disc #2
  •  Track Listings (34) - Disc #3

This magnificent performance is without a doubt among the top two or three Handel opera recordings in the catalog. John Nelson outdoes even the period instrument competition, conducting with a vitality and freshness that s...  more »

     
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Amazon.com essential recording
This magnificent performance is without a doubt among the top two or three Handel opera recordings in the catalog. John Nelson outdoes even the period instrument competition, conducting with a vitality and freshness that sweeps all before it. Kathleen Battle is a great Semele (if listening to this woman sing "Myself I Will Adore" isn't a classic example of typecasting, then what is?). But the real palm must go to Marilyn Horne as the jealous Juno, who simply stops the show with her two arias (she sings Ino as well). A very great recording. --David Hurwitz
 

CD Reviews

A Stellar Cast Breathes Life into the Baroque
Omar Lyles | FL, USA | 01/05/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Nelson's recording of Semele on the Deutsche Grammophon label is an excellent example of today's premiere voices singing a Baroque masterwork. Although Semele is one of Handel's lesser-known works, this performance could well rival any recording of Giulio Cesare or Judas Maccabaeus, and despite minor imperfections, it stands as a fine Handelian interpretation. It features an all-star cast including Kathleen Battle in the title role, Alan Aler as Jupiter, Samuel Ramey doubling as Cadmus and Somnus, Sylvia McNair as Iris and Marilyn Horne also doubling as Juno and Ino. It also includes the countertenor Michael Chance as Athamus, who makes a fine contribution to the ensemble in the role. Battle is stunning in the role of Semele. Here at the height of her powers, her singing is beautiful and delightfully self-absorbed (appropriate for the role). Her coloratura is emotive and precise. The arias "Endless pleasure" and "With fond desiring" sparkle, and her legato is utterly smooth in "O sleep, why dost thou leave me?" even though the song's dreary tempo and overly-elongated first phrase turn it into somewhat of an epic. Battle's interpretation of Semele is favorable even when compared with artists like Ruth Ann Swenson who recorded arias from Semele in 1998 with EMI. By comparison, Swenson's songs (although more straight-forward and perhaps more accurate) lack the fluidity and vitality of Battle's versions. Battle's intensity is best exhibited in the extraordinary aria "No, no, I'll take no less!" where she spins through four minutes of ghastly coloratura with reckless abandon. Although apparently taxing to her delicate voice, the furious melismas are managed remarkably well, and Battle finishes the piece with a spectacular high D-natural. (It is no wonder that Miss Swenson did not attempt this aria on her own album.)Playing opposite Kathleen Battle is Alan Aler who does a respectable job with the difficult role of Jupiter. His upper register is solid and vocal acting commendable. Although he manages to create some tender moments in the opera, Aler's tone becomes somewhat unpleasant during the more rigorous allegro passages. Marilyn Horne's performance as Juno is well played and deliberate. Her voice, although aging, is a pleasant addition to the cast. Horne maintains great agility and rhythmic precision throughout the opera. Her "Iris hence away!" is firm and fiery giving flashes of her brilliant performances in the past. Her duet with Battle in the second act is heavenly, but other arias make one yearn to hear Marilyn Horne in her prime.The performances of Samuel Ramey, Silvia McNair and Michael Chance are vital to the strength of the ensemble. Ramey's pristine singing is sometimes cold but always enjoyable. Silvia McNair's "From mortal cares retiring" is absolutely lovely. (It is probably the most comfortable she has sounded in recent memory.) Michael Chance, a veteran singer of Baroque literature, again shows his great agility and sensitive interpretation.Overall, Nelson exhibits fine conducting keeping both the orchestra and the chorus crisp and in tasteful balance with one another. The chorus negotiates the sometimes-hectic melismas surprisingly well. Muddy passages occur only here and there and even those can probably be attributed more to sound engineering than to poor conducting. Furthermore, Nelson's work with all the soloists in the area embellishments is to be applauded. Baroque embellishments and cadenzas can often sound forced or contrived, but this is not the case here. Most of the ornamentation sounds quite natural and fluid.I would recommend Nelson's Semele to anyone who loves Baroque music or anyone who loves classical music for that matter. It is not intended for those who are searching for absolute baroque authenticity or heavier works like those of Puccini or Verdi. I would, however, encourage everyone to take a look at this recording if not for the music itself, then for the wonderful performers contained therein."
Happy, Happy Shall We Be
E. A. Lovitt | Gladwin, MI USA | 09/28/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The sensuous "Semele" was censured in its day as a "bawdy opera"--possibly because it was written in English, and the English audience could actually understand what was happening on stage. If your only exposure to Handel up until now has been the yearly 'Messiah' concert, this 1993 Deutsche Grammophon recording is a great way to get started on his operas. John Nelson conducts the English Chamber Orchestra using modern instruments, and the stunning celebrity cast (Kathleen Battle, Marilyn Home, Samuel Ramey, John Aler, Michael Chance and Sylvia McNair) is to die for.Semele, the beautiful, ambitious mistress of Jupiter, has got to be Kathleen Battle's perfect role. She sings it superbly with only an occasional patented Battle-gasp. Her 'endless pleasure, endless love' with chorus sparkles with the artless joy of a young woman who has just won the biggest prize in the Lotto of Love. Her "Myself I shall adore" is Battle at her sprightliest (also, possibly her most ironic).American tenor John Aler sings a lyrical, well-enunciated Jupiter. His aria, "Where'er you walk" is one of the highlights of this three-CD recording. (If you'd like to hear a grumblier, baritone version of "Where'er you walk," try the Deutsche Grammophon recording of "Handel Arias" with Bryn Terfel.)Mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne tears up the vocal scenery in her dual role as Ino, Semele's sister, and the much plummier role of the vengeful goddess, Juno. Her aria, "Behold in this mirror" is an exercise in seductive vocal drama as she lures Semele ("vain wretched fool") down the path to self-destruction. After Semele takes the bait and demands to see Jupiter in his true form, Juno sings the triumphant, "Above measure is the pleasure, which my revenge supplies."Acclaimed bass Samuel Ramey fills the dual role of Cadmus, King of Thebes and Somnus, god of sleep. It's as Somnus that he sings one of my favorite Handel arias: "Leave me, loathsome light." (I always think of it as the 'migraine aria'). If you love Sam like many of us do, you'll buy this recording of "Semele" just to hear the three minutes and seven seconds on disk three of his dark, richly resonant "Leave me, loathsome light."Sylvia McNair, known around the world for her Paminas, Susannahs, and Tytanias sings a radiant, playful Iris in this recording. She tweaks Juno, rouses Somnus, and generally has the most fun in the opera.Today there are some very fine English countertenors specializing in Handelian repetoire, including Michael Chance who is woefully exquisite as Semele's discarded fiancé, Athamas in this production.The chorus is not neglected and gets to sing some good Handelian thumpers like "Oh, terror and astonishment" (my favorite) and "Happy, happy shall we be" at opera's end. Of course, Athamas doesn't get to marry Semele, but discovers he can be happy with her sister, Ino.You, dear friends shall be happy with this recording."
The Best Recording Of SEMELE ever!!
sherri j. thorne | brooklyn, new york United States | 08/20/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"If you want the definitive recording of Handel's SEMELE, look no further!! This recording is absolutely beautiful!! Featuring an all star ensemble, led by Katleen Battle, you will hear some of the most beautiful arias from the Baroque Period. Battle's spun silver soprano is well suited for singing these technically demanding arias: "The Morning Lark To Mine Accords His Note," "Endless Pleasure, Endless Love," and "Myself I Shall Adore." Marilyn Horne and Samuel Ramey team up again on this recording ( I saw them many years ago at the MET in Handel's "Rinaldo") and are great! Silvia McNair gained a new fan with: But Hark! The Heav'nly Sphere Turns Round," & "Turn Hopless Lover, Turn Thy Eyes." Mark S. Doss Is someone that I will be watching with great interest in years to come! I was VERY impressed with John Aler as Jupiter. The aria "Where'er You Walk, Cool Gales Shall Fan The Glade," is sensuous to the point that I wonder if Handel was influenced at least on a subconsious level, by Song Of Songs! This is, without a doubt, a CD that you will listen to with sheer joy for years to come!"