Where: Holy Trinity Cathedral
When: Thursday. More performances on tonight, Wednesday and Friday.
Reviewer: William Dart
The struggle between sacred and secular at the core of Handel's Semele is still a contentious issue today.
Thomas de Mallet Burgess makes this point in his director's note for New Zealand Opera's dazzling production, delivered with an ecclesiastical setting that is resonantly a propos.
With the roar of motorbike deputising for baroque thunder and cellphones for narcissistic mirrors, Burgess tweaks our expectations with style, drawing us into the opera's compulsive (and very human) narrative.
This charming morality tale centres around Emma Pearson's heroine, an ambitious minx, eager to attain immortality through a liaison with Amitai Pati's Jupiter.
She confesses her dilemma, walking up the nave, fusing dramatic recitative into the first of many exquisite arias. By the third act, she captivates with coquettish self-adoration one minute and fiery, possessed coloratura the next.
Amongst a solid cast, Sarah Castle as Ino and Juno stands out. Tracy Grant Lord's deft costuming aids the mezzo to shift smoothly between heroine's sister and Jupiter's vengeful wife, gloriously vicious in her final aria.
Amitai Pati's handsome King of the Gods comes with appropriate vocal credentials. His "Where're you walk" is a star turn and, later on, lesser-known arias are heart-melters.
Stephen Diaz's full-voiced countertenor and talent for relaxed, conversational recitative, neatly characterise the jilted bridegroom, while Paul Whelan, as a sleepy Somnus, makes one regret that his first aria fell on the cutting room floor.
Chelsea Dolman gives us a pert Iris, Juno's Girl Friday, but her character takes time to register after a badly lit and conceptually cluttered balcony scene that stymies one of the opera's crispest comings-together.
Finally, praise is due to the endlessly exuberant chorus, graduating from tizzy wedding guests to a tribe of hippies, straight from a celestial production of Hair perhaps, and well-primed in their contrapuntal duties. Peter Walls' expertise is also much appreciated, especially for the sweet sounds coaxed from the company's baroque orchestra.
With three further performances, tonight, Wednesday and Friday, Semele is not to be missed.