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Contemporary Artist Zhang Huan to Design and Direct a New Production of Handel's Semele

Art Fortune | News

Semele sets a new standard in the fusion of contemporary art and classical music, whilst at the same time representing a unique cross-fertilisation between Chinese and European culture.

BRUSSELS.- The KT Wong Foundation has commissioned acclaimed contemporary artist Zhang Huan to design and direct a new production of Handel’s Semele, to coincide with the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death. This is the first time a Chinese artist of Zhang Huan’s stature has both directed and designed an opera. Semele is the most ambitious project yet for the London-based KT Wong Foundation, which builds bridges between China and the wider world through cross-cultural collaboration.

A co-production between Belgium’s leading opera house Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie | de Munt and the KT Wong Foundation, Semele will open the 2009/2010 season at La Monnaie |de Munt on Tuesday 8 September. Semele will then travel to China in 2010, the first time a full-length baroque opera will be performed there.

Semele sets a new standard in the fusion of contemporary art and classical music, whilst at the same time representing a unique cross-fertilisation between Chinese and European culture. Weaving together the dynamism of contemporary art with the grandeur and passion of 18th century baroque opera, Zhang Huan’s Semele explores universal themes of love, ambition, greed, jealousy, betrayal and redemption.

At a time when the west increasingly looks to China as a source of inspiration, the creation of Semele has involved an unprecedented level of collaboration between talent from China and the west. Working alongside Zhang, and underlining the truly international nature of the project, are Christophe Rousset, one of Europe’s leading baroque specialists, with one of the world’s foremost period ensembles, Les Talens Lyriques; Su Jie, one of China’s leading movement directors and choreographers; Han Feng, the internationally renowned fashion and costume designer; Wolfgang Göbbel, acclaimed stage and opera lighting director; and a brilliant cast that includes Ying Huang (soprano), Ning Liang (mezzo soprano), Jeremy Ovenden (tenor) and Nathan Berg (bass-baritone).

The myth of Semele was first recorded in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and like many ancient myths, examines the complex relationships between gods and mortals. This co-existence plays an important part in Chinese folklore too, and Semele’s core themes are familiar in Chinese culture. Zhang Huan’s reinterpretation of Greek mythology, influenced by his Chinese heritage and Buddhist imagination, creates a modern and challenging aesthetic which allows for a new understanding of baroque opera.

The central set and backdrop of Semele is an architectural installation of an original Ming dynasty ancestral temple, discovered by Zhang Huan in Qu Zhou, Zhejiang Province. The temple is a powerful symbol of ritual, which plays an important role in Semele as envisioned by Zhang Huan, who conceived the set design and props especially for the production.

Chair of the KT Wong Foundation, Lady Linda Wong Davies, comments: ‘This production of Semele embodies the ethos of the KT Wong Foundation, fusing Chinese and Western culture to create an innovative work of art that is accessible to and relevant for a global audience. Our choice of Zhang Huan, one of China’s most important experimental artists, signifies our intention to break traditional boundaries. The audacity and uncompromising worldview he demonstrates in his works will make for a compelling, contemporary Semele.’


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