Händel, Georg Friedrich
Semele HWV 58
Edition no.
Volume / Series
Halle Handel Edition (HHA) I/19,1+2
Risinger, Mark / Georg-Friedrich-Händel-Gesellschaft e. V.
Instrumentation of the work
Soloists, Mixed choir, Orchestra
Language(s) of work
Language(s) of text
German, English
Product format
Complete edition, Score
Pages / Format
LVIII, 464 S. - 33,0 x 26,0 cm
Handel’s “Semele”, which premiered in February 1744, is based on an adapted version of William Congreve’s opera libretto titled “The Story of Semele”, originally published in 1706. However, neither Handel nor his librettist referred to “Semele” as an opera or an oratorio, which, according to the understanding at the time, would have required a biblical and/or Christian subject matter. Contemporary audiences also disagreed on the genre. The problematic classification as an oratorio has persisted into the present day, likely due to the edition labeled as such by Chrysander. The “Halle Handel Edition” (HHA) distances itself from this classification and, considering the available sources, refrains from assigning a genre label.

Congreve deviates from the mythological source multiple times in order to create tensions among the characters. The desired marriage between Semele and Athamas, whom she does not love, is an addition by Congreve to provoke the envy of her sister Ino, who desires Athamas herself. Therefore, Ino sees her own advantage in Semele’s abduction by Jupiter. While Jupiter’s wife Juno decides to destroy Semele out of jealousy for his relationship with her, Jupiter brings Ino to his palace to console Semele. The vengeful Juno takes advantage of Ino’s presence and transforms into her likeness, persuading Semele to carry out a plan that later proves fatal. In the end, Ino emerges as the winner, as she is able to convince their father, Cadmus, to marry her to Athamas. The appearance of Apollo in the final scene to announce that Semele’s immortal son Bacchus was saved from her ashes provides little consolation. However, this twist allows the drama to conclude with exuberant joy and a magnificent final chorus after the tragic scenes in the third act, culminating in the death of the protagonist.

Handel’s autograph score shows significant deviations from and numerous revisions of the original version premiered. All surviving early versions, the musical movements deleted before the premiere, and the version of the December 1744, are given in the appendix to the HHA.
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