The painter and performance artist Zhang Huan has said that he does not understand opera, and his first stab at directing and designing it—the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Handel’s “Semele” (1743), presented at the Brooklyn Academy of Music recently—indicates that he is not just being modest. From gimmicky concept to lame execution, this was a seriously annoying evening in the theater.
“Semele” is the tale of a mortal who aspires, fatally, to immortality. Swept off to a celestial love nest by the besotted Jupiter, the still-discontented princess is easily manipulated by the jealous Juno into demanding more, and is destroyed. Mr. Zhang’s inspiration for the production was a 450-yea...
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