Arts & Events

A Sumptuous French Opera: Marin Marais’ SÉMÉLÉ

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Saturday August 15, 2015 - 08:08:00 AM

As the centerpiece of its Versailles Festival, American Bach Soloists presented on Thursday evening, August 13, a concert performance of the 1709 opera Sémélé by Marin Marais. This opera, which preceded Handel’s rendering of the same story by several decades, was a huge undertaking for ABS’s Music Director, Jeffrey Thomas. The musical forces involved were monumental: a 53-piece orchestra, 17 chorus members, and 12 solo singers, amounting to 83 persons onstage counting Jeffrey Thomas who conducted. The results were well worth the effort, for this was a lively, musically rewarding performance of a French Baroque opera that long languished in oblivion. In fact, Marais’ Sémélé was neglected for almost 300 years until the French group Le Concert Spirituel, led by Hervé Niquet, presented the work at the Festival International de l’Opéra Baroque in Beaune, France, in 2006, the 350th anniversary year of Marin Marais’ birth. The current ABS presentation of Marais’ Sémélé at San Francisco Conservatory of Music, which repeats on Friday, August 14, is believed to be the first this opera has received outside of France. -more-