Skip to page content

Following on the heels of the oratorios Messiah and Samson, the appearance of “Semele: After the Manner of an Oratorio” in February 1744, based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, dashed the expectations of audiences expecting another Biblical epic. Mary Delany, who found it charming, wrote that “Semele has a strong party against it, viz. the fine ladies, petit maîtres, and ignoramus’s [sic].” In this inter-deity sitcom, the goddess Juno beckons Iris, messenger of the Gods, to join her fight to the darkened realm of Somnus, god of sleep, whose peaceful slumber she intends to “molest with noise and light.” Urgent repeated notes in the bass impel minimal interjections from the violins while Juno breathlessly describes their route “o’er Scythian hills to the Meotian lake.”