The 2012 production of Handel’s Semele was the most ambitious undertaking to date and featured a number of firsts for the Academy. The conductor, David Adams, created the RIAM Baroque Orchestra specifically for the production. Orchestral students participated in an Historically Informed Performance module and received tuition from a team of experts in baroque performance, led by Sarah Moffatt, a RIAM alumnus.
Another first was the collaboration with students from Design for Stage and Screen at IADT Dun Laoghaire who designed and created the lavish costumes and make-up for the opera. In addition, IADT students assisted Paul Keogan in set and lighting. This was a wonderfully exciting collaboration for the RIAM and enabled the creation of a large-scale production. Throughout the process, it was fascinating to see how the cast and design students developed a creative dialogue, facilitated by director, Thomas de Mallet Burgess.
The scale of the production was also the catalyst for staging the opera outside of the RIAM for the first time. We were fortunate to be able to present Semele in the site-specific venue of St Werburgh’s Church where Handel was reputed to have played the organ in 1742 during his visit to Dublin for the first performance of Messiah. First staged in the manner of an oratorio at Covent Garden Theatre in 1744, Semele could be described as an Italian opera in the guise of an English secular oratorio. Presenting the opera in St Werburgh’s Church allowed us to explore both elements. In his review in Opera magazine (April 2012), Ian Fox described the setting as “imaginative” and noted that “the acoustics are remarkable and were made full use of by the producer Thomas de Mallet Burgess in his stunning realization, which his young singers carried off with aplomb…”