Temple of Doom: Zhang Huan Produces George Frideric Handel’s Semele

© Gary Beechey

Handel’s ill-fated love story gets a towering new treatment.

Even by the grandiose standards of opera, Zhang Huan’s production of George Frideric Handel’s Semele, for the Canadian Opera Company, will be monumental—literally: The Chinese artist will house the dramatic 18th-century oratorio in an elaborately carved Ming dynasty temple, transported for the occasion from the town of Quzhou, China, to the stage of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s opera house (the city’s best alternative venue for opera since the demise of the New York City Opera). Zhang found striking parallels between the story of the sanctuary—it once housed a woman named Ruan JinMei who betrayed her husband, who then killed her lover—and the Greek myth at the opera’s heart, which follows the tempestuous, and ultimately fatal, affair between Dionysus’s mortal mother and the divine Zeus. The tale is ideally suited both to the musical genre and to the sensibilities of an artist whose work probes the nexus of flesh and spirit. Indeed, although the classical myth came from outside Zhang’s cultural purview, the first-time director was intrigued by its universal themes: “Cause and effect, desire, humanity’s bestial nature—these are all core concerns in Semele.” To assist soprano Jane Archibald in expressing those motifs, Zhang has fashioned giant, neon-colored balloon figures to loom above the action. Like the gas within them, “our desires and greed will constantly expand,” Zhang says. “But in the end they, and we, will deflate and become dust.”

From March 4 to 10; 30 Lafayette Ave.; bam.org.