Music by George Frideric Handel
Libretto derived from a drama by English playwright William Congreve
Based on a Latin narrative poem, Metamorphoses, by Roman poet Ovid
Performed in English with English supertitles.

A Burning Desire
Visionary director James Darrah and his creative team Chromatic (Agrippina, 2014 and A Flowering Tree, 2015) return to Opera Omaha with a new production of Handel’s Semele – a darkly comic mythological story of a mortal woman’s tryst with a dangerous god.  Featuring some of Handel's most glorious orchestral and virtuosic vocal writing, Semele is an opera of unbridled lust, jealousy, and revenge.  Early music specialist and Grammy® winning conductor, Stephen Stubbs (Agrippina, 2014), will lead another exceptional ensemble of artists.

Cadmus, a mortal King, and his followers have traveled to the Temple of Juno, Queen of the gods, to bless the marriage of his daughter Semele to Prince Athamas. A sacred fire develops on the altar and the chorus proclaims that the omens for the marriage appear favorable. Semele arrives for the ceremony after many attempts to delay the marriage due to her love of Jupiter, King of the gods. She pleads to Jupiter to intervene; his responding thunder interrupts the ceremony. The symbolic flames on the altar of Juno are extinguished as Cadmus prays for their return. Sensing a war between the godly spouses, the party flees from the temple, but Athamas and Semele’s sister Ino remain.

Ino and Athamas each reveal surprising truths and are startled when Cadmus interrupts with the shocking news that Semele has been abducted by Jupiter. The trio languishes while Semele transcends to the realm of the gods.

Juno, angered at her husband’s adultery, has ordered her messenger Iris to discover where Jupiter has taken Semele. Iris reports that Jupiter has built his new mortal lover an elaborate palace guarded by fierce dragons that never sleep. The enraged Juno swears vengeance, and hurries to visit Somnus, the God of Sleep, to demand his aid.

Semele wakes and immediately calls for Jupiter. He arrives in human form, reassures her of his fidelity and reminds her of her fragile mortality. Semele professes devotion to him, but reveals her discontent that she has not been made immortal. Sensing Semele’s dangerous ambition, Jupiter magically summons her sister Ino from earth to keep her company. In preparation, Jupiter transforms the palace into a beautiful garden to comfort and distract her…

Ino, enraptured, describes the extraordinary journey which lead her to Mount Cithaeron. The sisters are joyfully reunited, but Semele is once again distracted by the pursuit of pleasure and love.

Somnus is disturbed from his deep sleep by the arrival of Juno and Iris. He wakes but refuses to help Juno. She offers his favorite nymph in return for his aid and he relents. Juno orders Somnus to give Jupiter an erotic dream that will make him desperate for Semele at any price. Juno then receives Somnus’ potent power in order to lull any being to sleep on command. She uses that power to manipulate Ino, whom Juno puppets in order to convince Semele that she has been made as beautiful as a god.

Trusting her sister, Semele sees her glorified reflection and becomes narcissistically obsessed. Juno, still disguised as Ino, advises that if Semele wishes to become truly immortal then she must refuse Jupiter until he promises to grant any wish she desires. The disguised Juno suggests that Semele demand Jupiter to come to her only in his true godly form. Semele eagerly accepts this advice. Juno departs when she senses the approach of her husband.

Jupiter is alarmed when Semele rejects him. He rashly swears an irrevocable vow to grant her whatever she desires, and she demands that he visit her in his true form. He reacts with horror, knowing that his non-human form will instantly kill her. Semele refuses to listen, assuming that Jupiter’s protestations are only to resist granting her immortality. Left alone, Jupiter tries to find a way to save Semele’s life, but is forced to accept his loss.

Semele sees Jupiter approach as a fiery cloud of lightning and thunder, laments her folly, and dies consumed in flames.

Jupiter descends with the pleased Juno and announces that from Semele’s ashes the unborn child of Semele and Jupiter has risen. Named Bacchus, God of Wine, he will bring a reckless delight to all the earth.

-James Darrah


Stephen Stubbs, Conductor

Stephen Stubbs, who won the GRAMMY Award as conductor for Best Opera Recording 2015, spent a 30-year career in Europe. He returned to his native Seattle in 2006 as one of the world’s most respected lutenists, conductors, and baroque opera specialists and in 2014 was awarded the Mayor’s Arts Award for ‘Raising the Bar’ in Seattle.

Before his return, he was based in Bremen, Germany, where he was Professor at the Hochschule für Künste.

In 2007 Stephen established his new production company, Pacific MusicWorks, based in Seattle, reflecting his lifelong interest in both early music and contemporary performance. The company’s inaugural presentation was a production of South African artist William Kentridge’s acclaimed multimedia staging of Claudio Monteverdi’s opera The Return of Ulysses in a co-production with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. PMW’s performances of the Monteverdi Vespers were described in the press as “utterly thrilling” and “of a quality you are unlikely to encounter anywhere else in the world”.

Stephen is also the Boston Early Music Festival’s permanent artistic co-director along with his long time colleague Paul O’Dette. Stephen and Paul are also the musical directors of all BEMF operas, recordings of which were nominated for three GRAMMY awards, and won the GRAMMY for Best Opera Recording 2015.

In addition to his ongoing commitments to PMW and BEMF, other recent appearances have included Handels’ Giulio Cesare and Gluck’s Orfeo in Bilbao, Mozart’s Magic Flute and Cosi fan Tutte for the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival and Handel’s Agrippina for Opera Omaha. In recent years he has conducted Handel’s Messiah with the Seattle, Edmonton and Birmingham Symphony orchestras.

His extensive discography as conductor and solo lutenist include well over 100 CDs, which can be viewed at, many of which have received international acclaim and awards.

In 2013, Stephen was appointed Senior Artist in Residence at the University of Washington School of Music. His first major production there was Handel’s Semele in May 2014 followed by Mozart’s Magic Flute in 2015.

James Darrah, Director

Los Angeles based director and designer James Darrah's collaborative focus through varied mediums quickly led him to be recognized as "the newest discovery... a gifted young American director" (Chicago Tribune) following his professional debut in 2011. He has since crafted an unconventional and varied body of work that "injects real drama" (The New York Times) with new theater and opera productions, installations, and events that become "once-in-a-lifetime experience[s]" (Opera News). His uniquely collaborative and team-based approach to unconventional projects has also led to the creation of new LA-based production and design company Chromatic: a collective of interdisciplinary artists who collaborate to create aesthetic, theatrical events across blurring mediums. This season, his curation of Chromatic's wide range of projects include everything from the creation of a large opera gala in a functioning steel factory, to a multimedia video installation and performance piece based on Fauré’s Pelléas and Mélisande with conductor Louis Langrée.

CURRENT PROJECTS include a return to Chromatic's annual residency with Opera Omaha, crafting a new production of Handel’s Semele in a co-production with Opera Philadelphia, his European debut with Teatro Nacional de São Carlos in Lisbon, Portugal directing Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride, and direction/curation for one of San Francisco Symphony’s trailblazing SOUNDBOX series. This spring, he continues his ongoing collaboration with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas as director of Bernstein’s On the Town in a new staged production for the San Francisco Symphony and as director for a world premiere composed by Tilson Thomas with New World Symphony, Miami. Other upcoming projects include a debut at Bard Summerscape with a new production of Mascagni’s Iris, designs for Brook’s Bizet adaptation with Chromatic’s annual retreat to the Bay Chamber Festival, Maine in August and the world premiere of Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek's operatic adaptation of Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves for Opera Philadelphia in September. Darrah also recently completed the first installment of his three year Pelléas Project based on Schoenberg’s tone poem Pelleas und Melisande with Langrée and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra which featured the LA-based dance group WIFE and directed the second in his series of new productions of the Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy for Così fan tutte with Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and conductor Edo de Waart.

PAST PROJECTS include direction and design for an acclaimed Peter Grimes with the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas, the world premiere production of Frank Zappa's full, infamous 200 Motels with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting, Pacific Musicworks in Seattle directing and choreographing a new Semele, a new Don Giovanni for the San Francisco Merola Opera Program, and his Lincoln Center directing debut with Handel's Radamisto for The Juilliard School.

In January 2015, Darrah curated Chromatic’s debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic featuring the US premiere of Olga Neuwirth’s Hommage a Klaus Nomi conducted by John Adams. He then co-directed with Peabody Southwell in the inaugural season of Opera San Antonio with a new production of Poulenc’s La voix humaine featuring soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci. He collaborated with Peter Sellars and Gustavo Dudamel assisting in staging John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary in Los Angeles (WDCH), London (Barbican Centre), Paris (Salle Pleyel) and Lucerne (KKL), and worked with director Christopher Alden for the LA Philharmonic’s Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy. He’s also created work for Theater@Boston Court, the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival, SCA Gallery, The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, Chicago Opera Theater and over five new productions (including two US West Coast Premieres) for Opera UCLA.

He trained in directing and design as a resident artist with the Croatian National Theater and Split Summer Festival and his past theater work ranges from adaptations and new translations of Aeschylus' Oresteia to new productions of the plays of Caryl Churchill.  He has taught theater and performance for the Adler Fellowship Program of San Francisco Opera, Cornish College of the Arts, California State University, Long Beach and the University of California, Los Angeles. Darrah holds a MFA from the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television where he was the recipient of the James Pendelton Foundation Grant and the George Burns/Gracie Allen Directing Scholarship. He continued directing studies and work with director Stephen Wadsworth for two seasons at The Juilliard School. He was awarded the national Princess Grace Award in Theater, was a nominee for newcomer in the 2015 International Opera Awards and recently named Musical America’s New Artist of the Month for December 2015.

Adam Larsen, Projections Designer

Adam Larsen is a filmmaker and projection designer. He has designed both on and off Broadway, including: Hal Prince’s LoveMusik (Broadway); The Gospel at Colonus (Athens, Edinburgh and Spoleto Festivals); The Wind Up Bird Chronicle (Singapore and Edinburgh Festival);  Brief Encounter and My Fair Lady (Shaw Festival); The Women of Brewster Place (Alliance / Arena Stage); Ghost Brothers of Darkland County and Native Guard (Alliance Theatre); big (Atlanta Ballet); Love Lies Bleeding, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and Balletlujah (Alberta Ballet); From the House of the Dead (Canadian Opera); Lily Plants a Garden (Mark Taper); Maa (Atlanta Symphony / GloAtl); A Flowering Tree and Agrippina (Opera Omaha); Semele (Pacific Musicworks); Quartet (Aspen Santa Fe Ballet); Seed (Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet); Pelleas Und Melisande (Cincinnati Symphony); Siren Song and Midsummer Night’s Dream (Hawaii Opera Theatre); Second Hand and Phorion (New World Symphony); Black Whole (Black Mountain College Museum & Arts Center / Moog Music); Le Martyre de St Sebastien, Peer Gynt and Peter Grimes (San Francisco Symphony). Adam holds a B.F.A. in cinematography from N.C. School of the Arts. His documentary about autism entitled Neurotypical aired on the PBS series POV. 

Cameron Jaye Mock, Scenic & Lighting Designer

Cameron Jaye Mock hailed by the Los Angeles Times as "lyrical superb scenic and lighting design" was most recently the scenic and lighting designer for Così fan tutte, with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Further recent work of this last year includes, lighting and scenic design with Opera Omaha on their new production of John Adam's A Flowering Tree, scenic, lighting, and projection design for Daphne with The Cleveland Orchestra, and scenic design with the LA Phil for their new production of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in a co-production with San Francisco Symphony. 

Other eminent productions include, Peter Grimes with San Francisco Symphony, Don Giovanni with Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Don Giovanni with San Francisco Opera's Merola program, Frank Zappa's 200 Motels with the LA Phil, Radamisto with The Juilliard School, Semele with Pacific Musicworks, Peer Gynt with San Francisco Symphony, the world premiere of The Classical Style with Ojai Music Festival, Agrippina with Opera Omaha, Saul with Trinity Wall Street, La voix humaine and il segreto di Susanna with Opera San Antonio, and a multi-year long project with the Latino Theater Company and Los Angeles Theater Center

Further opera credits include Dialogues des Carmélites, L'incoronazione di Poppea, the US West Coast premiere of Jonathan Dove's FlightDido and AeneasGiasoneAlbert Herring, Peter Brooks’ adaptation of Bizet with La tragédie de CarmenL’enfant et les sortileges, Così fan tutte, The Golden Vanity, All the King's Men, L’Elisir D’ Amore, as well as a staging of the oratorio L'Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderato. 

He is also a founding member of Chromatic, a new Los Angeles based production company, and co-owner of Mac Moc Design, LLC.      

Emily Anne MacDonald, Scenic & Lighting Designer


Emily Anne MacDonald was most recently the scenic and costume designer for Così fan tutte, with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Other recent productions include scenic and costume design for Daphne with The Cleveland Orchestra, scenic design for Opera Omaha’s new production of John Adam's A Flowering Tree, scenic design for La voix humaine and Il segreto di Susanna with Opera San Antonio, and scenic and costume design for LA Phil’s new production of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in a co-production with the San Francisco Symphony. 

Notable productions include, scenic design for Peter Grimes with San Francisco Symphony, Semele with Pacific Musicworks, Agrippina with Opera Omaha, the world premiere of The Classical Style with Ojai Music Festival, Peer Gynt with San Francisco Symphony, Frank Zappa's 200 Motels with the LA Phil, Don Giovanni with San Francisco Opera's Merola program, Radamisto with The Juilliard School, Saul with Trinity Wall Street, O.P.C. with activist Eve Ensler, As We Grow Down with Dorn Dance Company, and the design and direction of a staging of Schubert's Winterreise.

Ms. MacDonald is an active painter, printmaker, and sculptor, having been an artist in residence at Burren College of Art in County Clare, Ireland and at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, California, as well as a former member of the California Society of Printmakers.

he is also a founding member of Chromatic, a new Los Angeles based production company, and co-owner of Mac Moc Design, LLC.

Sarah Schuessler, Costume Designer

Sarah Schuessler is a Los Angeles based costume designer with a varied body of work that spans from motion picture costuming, television and commercial design/styling, to original costume designs for theater and new opera productions. Her most recent film credits include shopping for 50 Shades Darker and 50 Shades Freed, as well as set costuming for the upcoming Damien Chazelle movie musical, La La Land. 

She has designed over ten new productions for director James Darrah, including a lauded Peter Grimes with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony and Semele for Pacific MusicWorks in Seattle. She is part of Chromatic's annual residency with Opera Omaha, creating costume designs for new productions of Handel's Agrippina and most recently John Adams' A Flowering Tree.

Additional opera designs with Darrah include work in Hawaii on L'Enfant et les SortilègesLa tragédie de Carmen, and a staging of Handel's L'Allegro, as well as new productions of Dido and Aeneas, the US West Coast premiere of Jonathan Dove's Flight, and Brown's The Last Five Years for UCLA's School of Theater, Film, and Television.

She holds a Bachelor's degree from USC's School of Theatre and her Master of Fine Arts degree in costume design from UCLA's School of Theater, Film, and Television.

Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, Choreographer*

Gustavo Ramírez Sansano ( 1978 San Fulgencio, Spain) was Artistic Director of Luna Negra Dance Theater from 2009-2013, after directing proyecto TITOYAYA in Valencia, Spain for four years. Sansano is the recipient of numerous awards for his choreography, including first prizes at the Ricard Moragas competition in Barcelona, the Dom Perignon choreographic competition in Hamburg, and at Las Artes Escénicas de la Comunidad Valenciana.  He has been commissioned to create works for Luzerner tanz Theater (Swizerland), Compania Nacional de Danza (Madrid), Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (USA), Ballet Hispánico-New York (USA), Ballet BC (Canada), Balé Teatro Guaíra (Brasil),  the Hamburg Ballet (Germany), TanzTheaterMünchen (Germany), Budapest Dance Theater (Hungary), National Dance Company Wales (United Kingdom), Norrdans (Sweden) , Gyori Ballet (Hungary), Balletto dell’Esperia (Italy), BalletMet (USA), IT dansa (Spain), Ballet Junior de Genève (Swizerland) , Ballet de la Generalitat Valenciana (Spain), Györgi Ballet (Hungary), Otra Danza (Spain), ABCDance Company(Austria), Dominnic Walsh Dance Theater (USA), Badora Dance Company (Hungary),  Luna Negra Dance Theater (USA), and Nederlands Dans Theater (Holland), among others.  As a dancer, Sansano performed works by Jacopo Godani, Hans Van Manen, Jiří Kylián, Ohad Naharin, Johan Inger, Paul Lightfoot, Victor Ullate and many more, working for the Ballet Joven de Alicante, Ballet Contemporaneo de Barcelona, Ballet de la Comunidad de Madrid, Nederlands Dans Theater II and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. 

Sansano was chosen by the magazine Por la Danza for its 15th anniversary as one of the ‘fifteen choreographers to Watch.’ Dance Magazine featured Luna Negra's artistic director, Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, in its annual '25 to Watch' list , 2012 and named a 'Chicagoan of the Year in Arts & Entertainment' by the Chicago Tribune.

Teaching Experience:
Centro Coreográfico Gallego, Scottish Dance Theatre, Conservatorio superior y professional de danza de Valencia, Springboard Danse Montréal, The Juilliard School, Escuela Municipal de Música y danza de Torrevieja, Institut del Teatre de Barcelona, The School at Jacob's Pillow, Daf Dance Arts Faculty in Rome, among others.
Operas Credits:
Chicago Opera Theater.
“María de Buenos Aires” by composer Astor Piazzolla with libretto by Horacio Ferrer
General Director: Andreas Mitisek,
Choreography: Gustavo Ramírez Sansano

Christopher Bordenave, Assistant Choreographer/Dancer*

Christopher Bordenave was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. Upon graduating from high school, Christopher went on to study at the Ailey School and the LINES Ballet School acquiring his BFA in Dance. Christopher has performed the works of Nacho Duato, Stijn Celis, Alonzo King, Idan Sharabi, and Gustavo Ramirez Sansano with numerous companies throughout the States and abroad. In 2014, Christopher founded No)one. Art House, an organization that promotes and produces quality interdisciplinary art such as dance, film, and photography throughout the greater Los Angeles area.

*Opera Omaha Mainstage Debut


Titles Creator: James Darrah

Technical Director: Katherine Pursell

Asst. Director: James Blaszko*

Stage Manager: Erin Thompson-Janszen
Asst. Stage Manager: Julie Chin
Asst. Stage Manager: Jayme O'Hara

Makeup & Hair Design: Ronell Oliveri
Wig & Makeup Assistant: Sarah Opstad

Wardrobe Coordinator: Cheri Sanwick

Properties Master: Ronnie Wells

Supertitle Operator: Aaron Breid

Rehearsal Accompanist/Harpsichord: Jonathan Oddie*
Continuo Cello: David Morris

Production Assistant: Kaley Smith
Production Assistant: Alaina Bartkowiak
Production Assistant: Stella Fritzell
Lighting Intern: Maxx Finn

Master Electrician: Collie MacCardell
Master Carpenter: Al Dusek

*Opera Omaha Mainstage Debut


Mary Feminear, Semele*

Mary Feminear has been hailed by critics as showing “versatility… in her sorrowing and in her transcendent joy” (NY Times), and as “a commandingly rich, almost mezzo-like soprano” (Opera News).  Along with making her debut at Opera Omaha in Handel’s Semele this season, she has also performed in the role of Helena in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as Papagena in Mozart’s The Magic Flute and as Oberto in Handel’s Alcina as part of the Troupe des Jeunes Solistes at the Grand Théâtre de Genève. 

Highlights of the 2014-15 season include a production of the The Magic Flute with Pacific MusicWorks, conducted by Stephen Stubbs, where she appeared as Pamina; Ms. Feminear also made her Seattle Opera debut in the title role of Handel’s Semele, conducted by Gary Thor Wedow.  

Other opera credits include Polissena in Handel’s Radamisto (Juilliard), Prosperpine in Charpentier’s La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers (Gotham Chamber Opera), Lauretta in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi (Chautauqua Music Festival), and Abigail Williams in Ward’s The Crucible (Chautauqua Music Festival).  Ms. Feminear has also performed in concert and oratorio, appearing as Maria Maddalena in Handel’s La Resurrezione, conducted by William Christie, and in the St Matthew Passion in Alice Tully Hall with Gary Thor Wedow conducting.  

Ms. Feminear is an Auburn, Alabama native and holds degrees from Juilliard and Columbia University.  She is a student of Edith Wiens.

Aubrey Allicock, Cadmus/Somnus*

Hailed by The New York Times as "sturdy", "dynamic", and "excellent", Aubrey Allicock continues to make his mark among important opera companies and symphonies both at home and abroad.

In the 2015-16 season, he returns to the Wexford Festival in Delius’s Koanga; a return engagement with Seattle Opera in the title role of Le nozze di Figaro; sings Cadmus/Somnus in Semele with Opera Omaha in a James Darrah production; returns to Opera Theatre of Saint Louis as Bulbul Fakh in Jack Perla’s Shalimar the Clown, after the novel by Salman Rushdie; and, sings at the Concertgebouw in John Adams’s El Niño. In 2017, he makes his Washington National Opera debut in a reprise of Terrance Blanchard’s Champion as the Young Emile.

His recent triumph in 2014-15 season at the Metropolitan Opera as Mamoud in The Death of Klinghoffer brought him world-wide recognition this season. This auspicious debut was followed by a Carnegie debut in a reprise of his roles from the Ojai Festival of Tonic and Don Giovanni in Steven Stucky's The Classical Style with Robert Spano conducting and where he was named a candidate for the Warner Music Prize. In addition, he made his Komische Opera Berlin debut this season as Escamillo. In the summer of 2014, Mr. Allicock made an unscheduled debut at Glyndebourne as Argante in Rinaldo with Ottavio Dantone conducting in a Robert Carson production.

In 2013, he returned to Opera Theatre of St. Louis for the world première of Terence Blanchard’s Champion, as the young Emile Griffith, the world-renowned prizefighter and made his Phoenix Symphony and New York Philharmonic Youth Concert debuts that season in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

He has sung the roles of Tiridate in Radamisto under the baton of Julian Wachner and director James Darrah; the Forester (The Cunning Little Vixen) with Anne Manson conducting and the U.S. première of Peter Maxwell Davies’ Kommilitonen! as the Grand Inquisitor. In the 2010-2011 season, Mr. Allicock joined the roster of the Metropolitan Opera covering the roles of Astarotte (Armida) and Marullo (Rigoletto).

Mr. Allicock has appeared on several occasions with the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis making his role debut as Mamoud in The Death of Klinghoffer; performed the Mad Hatter and Duck in the U.S. première of Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland; and, Zaretsky in Eugene Onegin. He has also covered the title role of Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro as well as the role of Figaro in The Ghosts of Versailles.

He has performed with the Ojai Music Festival, Wexford Festival Opera, the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, the South Bohemian Chamber Philharmonic and with Concerts-Austria as bass soloist in Mozart’s Coronation Mass at Karlskirche. Mr. Allicock has also had the honor of sharing the stage with Academy Award winning actor Louis Gossett, Jr. in Chamber Music PLUS’s production of New World: Portrait of H.T. Burleigh which featured the music of Antonín Dvořák.

Mr. Allicock received his Artist Diploma from The Juilliard School; M.M. fromIndianaUniversity; holds a B.M. fromGrand CanyonUniversityand was a Gerdine Young Artist with Opera Theatre of St. Louis.

Ray Chenez, Athamas*

Winner of the prestigious 2014 George London Award, Ray Chenez is rapidly establishing a major international career in opera. He has been called “luxury casting” by The New York Times, having “excellent connection to text, superb vocal control and spotless diction” by Opera News, and having a “dramatic soprano voice which oozes potential” by Opera Britannia.

He made his debut in Europe with Parnassus Arts Productions in the role of Marzia in Leonardo Vinci’s Catone in Utica alongside Max Emanuel Cencic and Franco Fagioli at the Opéra Royal de Versailles, Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden, and the Bergen International Festival with Riccardo Minasi and Il Pomo d'Oro in the 2014-15 season.

In the 2015-16 season, he makes his debut at the Roman Athenaeum in Bucharest, Romania and the Theater an der Wien as Marzia in Catone in Utica; he returns to the Opéra Royal de Versailles and makes his debut at the Opéra national de Lorraine à Nancy in the roles of Nutrice and Amore in a new production of Luigi Rossi’s Orfeo under the baton of Raphaël Pichon, and makes his debut with Opera Omaha as Athamas in Handel's Semele under the baton of Stephen Stubbs.

In the 2014-15 season, he made his debut in Lincoln Center as the Sorceress in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and reprised the role of Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro with Nickel City Opera, a role he received rave reviews for in his Canadian debut with Pacific Opera Victoria during the 2013-2014 season - CBC Radio stated he “captured the audience’s heart,” the Times Colonist reported “What Chenez does in a mezzo’s register is technically amazing and often affecting, and his Cherubino is at once hilarious and sympathetic,” and CVV Magazine hailed him for his “stunning countertenor and lanky gesticulations.”

Ray Chenez was born in the town of Lockport, NY (USA), and completed his vocal studies at the State University of New York at Fredonia and Florida State University. He is a winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council District Auditions among many other competitions. As a studio artist with Opera Santa Barbara in California, he covered the title role in Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice. In addition to his work on the opera stage, he has also performed the concert repertoire of Handel, Bach, and Bernstein.

William Ferguson, Jupiter

Acclaimed for his versatility in both opera and concert, tenor William Ferguson made his debut with the Santa Fe Opera in 2006 as Caliban in the North American premiere of Thomas Adès’ The Tempest, and in 2005, bowed in Sydney with Opera Australia singing Truffaldino in a new production of The Love for Three Oranges subsequently released on compact disc under the Chandos label. The same year, Ferguson joined the roster of The Metropolitan Opera where he has performed Beppe in I Pagliacci as well as roles in Le Nozze di Figaro and The Magic Flute (under the baton of James Levine).

A regular artist at The New York City Opera, his performances there included the title role in Candide, Nanki-Poo in The Mikado, the Funeral Director in A Quiet Place, The Electrician in Powder Her Face, and twice as Hérisson de Porc-Épic in L’Étoile–among many others. Additional credits include Andres in Wozzeck with Opera Festival of New Jersey, Male Chorus in Rape of Lucretia with Opera Memphis, George in Our Town with Central City Opera, Electrician in Powder Her Face with Festival Opéra de Québec, Carl Linden in Bitter Sweet with Bard SummerScape, Don Basilio in a fully-staged production of Figaro at Disney Hall with the LA Philharmonic (conducted by Gustavo Dudamel), Pang in Turandot with Opera Philadelphia, Remendado in Carmen with The Dallas Opera, Frederic in Pirates of Penzance with both Virginia Opera and Opera Omaha, the Sailor in Dido and Aeneas with Gotham Chamber Opera, Ferrando in Così fan tutte at The Aspen Music Festival, Peter Quint in The Turn of the Screw at the Chautauqua Institution, Gonzalve in L’Heure Espagnole and Fenton in Falstaff at the Tanglewood Music Center (both with Seiji Ozawa), and the title role in Albert Herring directed by Lotfi Mansouri at The Music Academy of the West.

Ferguson has also performed with Opera Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall on several occasions, including as Nick in La Fanciulla del West and as Laërte in Mignon. A compelling interpreter of new music, Mr. Ferguson sang Bentley Drummle in Dominick Argento’s Miss Havisham’s Fire at Opera Theatre of St. Louis; and performed in the world premiere productions of Anthony Davis’ Wakonda’s Dream with Opera Omaha, Robert Aldridge’s Elmer Gantry with Peak Performances, as well as operas by Lee Hoiby and Harold Farberman. He holds both a Bachelor’s and Master’s of Music degree from The Juilliard School and is a native of Richmond, Virginia.

A passionate concert and recital performer, Mr. Ferguson has appeared with The American Symphony Orchestra, BBC Orchestra (London), Boston Symphony Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (England), Handel and Haydn Society, Houston Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Musica Sacra New York, National Symphony Orchestra, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Oratorio Society of New York, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (in a fully staged production of Handel’s Messiah), and Radio Filharmonisch Orkest (Netherlands); as well as the local symphony orchestras of Bellingham, New Haven, Norwalk, Omaha, Quad Cities, Richmond, Santa Barbara, Waterbury, Wheeling, and Winston-Salem. Ferguson appears as Brian on the recording and DVD of Not The Messiah, a comic oratorio based on the Monty Python film Life of Brian, recorded live at the Royal Albert Hall in London. His repertoire ranges from that of the baroque masters to the difficult cycles of Schubert, Schumann, Janáček, and Rorem—showcasing him across the United States in chamber programs and recitals for the 92nd Street Y, Bard Music Festival, Marlboro Music Festival, Young Concert Artists, Delaware Master Chamber Series, Chameleon Arts Ensemble, and Clarksville Community Concerts among others. Ferguson has performed extensively with The Marilyn Horne Foundation, Five Borough Music Festival, as well as The New York Festival of Song.

Mr. Ferguson has been the recipient of several awards and honors including First Place in the Oratorio Society of New York Solo Competition, The Elihu Hyndman Career Grant from Opera Theatre of St. Louis, The Judges’ Award in the Opera Index Competition, a Bagby Foundation Career Grant, and The Alan Weiler Award for Excellence presented by Opera Orchestra of New York. He was nominated for a 2006 Green Room Award (Melbourne) for Outstanding Male Performer in an Opera. In 2003 he was awarded the Alice Tully Vocal Arts Debut Recital Award granting him a New York recital debut in Alice Tully Hall.


Peabody Southwell, Juno/Ino

American artist Peabody Southwell has been recognized for her “stylistic mastery and ripe, sensual sound” (Opera Magazine UK) in an unconventionally versatile range of mediums and styles, she has worked in the past three years as an acclaimed actor, singer as well as visual and costume designer, curator, and writer. Current season engagements as a performer include her return to LA Opera as La Ciesca in Woody Allen’s production of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, and a reprisal of her role as the Third Lady within Barrie Kosky’s production ofThe Magic Flute. She sings the principal role in the world premiere of David Lang’s Anatomy Theater at LA Opera with Beth Morrison Projects, makes a return to the dual roles of Juno and Ino in James Darrah’s production of Semele with Opera Omaha and will perform with John Adams conducting BMP’s Liederabend 21c with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. As a designer, she costume designs the US staged premiere of Jonathan Dove’s L’Altra Euridice for the Bay Chamber Festival in Maine and designs costumes for WIFE in the first iteration of the three yearPelleas project with Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Recent work includes her Carnegie Hall performance debut with Steven Stucky and Jeremy Denk’s The Classical Style led by Robert Spano, a return to San Francisco Symphony in Pulcinella conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, a debut performing Handel’s Messiah with Seattle Symphony and appearances with Los Angeles Opera as Flora inLa Traviata and in the new production of The Ghosts of Versailles, both conducted by James Conlon.  As an actor, she also recently completed filming for a role within the new feature The Disappointments Room produced by Relativity Media. As a designer and director in the past season, she co-directed and costume designed new productions of La voix humaine and Il segreto di Susanna for Opera San Antonio featuring soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci, severed as the curator and co-designer for Chromatic and wildUp’s Pulp in Santa Barbara,  and designed costumes (with Emily Anne MacDonald) for Daphne with the Cleveland Orchestra.

Other recent season highlights as an actor,  mezzo soprano and contralto include debuts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic narrating Philip Glass’ The Civil warS, a tour with the New World Symphony and Tilson Thomas in Chicago and Miami, performances as the Third Lady in Barrie Kosky’s production of Die Zauberflöte for LA Opera, an acclaimed role debut as the title role in James Darrah‘s production of Handel’s Agrippina for Opera Omaha, the title role in La Tragèdie de Carmen for Des Moines Metro Opera, Juno and Ino in Semele for Seattle’s Pacific Musicworks with James Darrah and Stephen Stubbs, Omar in John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer for Long Beach Opera, a multi-media recital and accompanying short film featuring Schoenberg’s Das Buch der hängenden Gärten with Mark Robson at Boston Court, the world premiere of Kamran Ince’s The Ghosts of Crosstown for Opera Memphis and the world premiere of Stucky and Denk’s The Classical Style for The Ojai Festival in California with subsequent performances at Ojai North in Berkeley.

A Los Angeles native, Peabody made her LA Opera debut in the world premiere of Holdridge’s Dulce Rosa conducted by Plácido Domingo. She has appeared as Anna in Kurt Weill’s Die sieben Todsünden for Central City Opera, The Woman in Green in San Francisco Symphony’s genre-bending Peer Gynt and The Rape of Lucretia with James Conlon as part of the Britten 100/LA festival. Immediately after completing her Master’s degree from UCLA in 2009 she made her professional debut with Long Beach Opera as the Fox in The Cunning Little Vixen. She subsequently performed more than ten principal roles with LBO including the title role in Piazzola’s María de Buenos Aires, which she reprised as her debut with Chicago Opera Theater. With repertoire stretching from early music to modern, and encompassing mezzo soprano and contralto,  she also has upcoming premieres for composers David Lang with Beth Morrison Projects and Nathaniel Stookey. She was a two-time Los Angeles district winner and regional finalist in the Metropolitan National Council Auditions, a winner of the Kent Atwater Concerto Competition, a Lotte Lenya Competition finalist and was recently named Musical America’s New Artist of the Month for May 2014.  She’s one of the founding members of the new LA-based production collective Chromatic, where she works as co-creative director with her longtime collaborator James Darrah to develop work  across multiple mediums. She trained at NYC’s Herbert Berghof Studios, and her work as a voiceover actor can also be heard on PBS.

Liz Lang, Iris*

American soprano Liz Lang is currently pursuing her operatic career in New York City under the direction of Metropolitan Opera tenor, John McVeigh. Most recently, Liz performed Strauss’s Brentano Lieder with pianist Joseph Yungen in a recital at The Juilliard School and was the soprano soloist in Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem with members of The Riverside Choir. In May 2015, Liz sang the role of Frasquita in New York Opera Exchange’s production of Carmen, conducted by Alden Gatt and directed by Matt Dickson.

In 2012 Liz performed in James Darrah’s innovative production of Handel’s L’Allegro il Penseroso at the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival, under the musical direction of Grammy award winner, Stephen Stubbs. She later appeared as Atlanta in a blackbox production of Handel’s Serse, directed by the head of the Eastman School of Music Opera Department, Steven Daigle and conducted by Grammy award winning lutenist, Paul O’Dette. Liz has performed in many early music concerts conducted and accompanied by O’Dette and Baroque ensemble, including a recital of Strozzi cantatas and a concert version of Handel’s infrequently performed first opera Almira in which she sang the part of Edilia.

While studying at the Eastman School of Music, Liz was chosen by Dawn Upshaw as the winner of the Jessie Kneisel Lieder Competition, which culminated in a solo German recital for the public. Liz was also selected to perform in the world premier of the three-person opera, The Polite Abductress, composed by the Joan and Martin Messinger Dean Emeritus of Eastman, Douglas Lowry. She was a soloist with the Eastman Wind Ensemble in director Donald Hunsberger’s arrangement of selections from Porgy and Bess entitled “Catfish Row,” and was a finalist in the Friends of Eastman Opera competition. Under the baton of Benton Hess and direction of Stephen Carr, Liz sang Blanche de la Force in Eastman’s mainstage production of Dialogues of the Carmelites, which the Democrat and Chronicle acclaimed to be “nothing short of masterful, from conception to execution,” and Liz’s performances earned her photo recognition in Classical Singer Magazine.

Other operatic highlights include Papagena in Die Zauberflöte, Adina in L’elisir d’amore, Violetta in La Traviata, the Foreign Woman in The Consul, and Shirley Kaplan in Street Scene. Liz has performed concerts in various venues across Italy and during the Salzburg Festival in Austria.

Liz earned her Master of Music in Vocal Performance and Literature from the Eastman School of Music in the studio of Rita Shane after completing her Bachelor of Music degrees in Opera and Music Theatre at Oklahoma City University under the leadership of Dr. Frank Ragsdale.

These performances with Opera Omaha mark Liz’s professional debut.

Janice Lancaster Larsen, Principal Dancer*

Janice Lancaster Larsen has performed internationally with Shen Wei Dance Arts since 2005, and is a freelance choreographer and dancer based out of Asheville, NC. As a choreographer, she has received residencies and commissions through the Bard Music Festival (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY), Robert Wilson's Watermill Center (Southampton, NY), Omi International Dance Collective (Ghent, NY), the Bessie Schönberg Choreographic Residency (Chilmark, MA), the Hubbard Street 2 Dance Company (Chicago, IL), the Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center (Asheville, NC), and many as a co-founder of VIA Dance Collaborative (New York, NY). She has taught and presented work at the University of Maine's Intermedia Department (Bangor), Universidad de las Américas (Puebla, Mexico), City Dance Center (Bethesda, MD), Roger Williams University (Bristol, RI), University of NC School of the Arts (Winston-Salem, NC), and SUNY (Fredonia). Her work has been presented in New York City at Movement Research’s Judson Church, Dance New Amsterdam, The Ailey Citigroup Theatre, Galapagos Art Space, Joyce Soho, Dixon Place, Movement Research’s Open Performance, One Arm Red; and elsewhere: the Chisenhale Dance Space (London), WUK Association for the Creation of Open Culture and Workshop Houses (Vienna), CCN-Ballet de Lorraine (Nancy, France), Performática (Cholula, Mexico), The Fulton Opera House (Lancaster, PA), The McCallum Theatre (Palm Desert, CA), The Casa Hoffman (Curitiba, Brazil), The Honolulu Theatre for Youth (Honolulu, HI), the Hawaii Opera Theatre (Honolulu, HI). She received her BFA in Dance from the University of NC School of the Arts, MFA in Dance from Hollins University/American Dance Festival, Relax and Renew® Restorative Yoga certification through Judith Hanson Lasater, and Hatha Yoga certification from the Asheville Yoga Center.


Christopher Bordenave, Assistant Choreographer/Dancer*

Christopher Bordenave was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. Upon graduating from high school, Christopher went on to study at the Ailey School and the LINES Ballet School acquiring his BFA in Dance. Christopher has performed the works of Nacho Duato, Stijn Celis, Alonzo King, Idan Sharabi, and Gustavo Ramirez Sansano with numerous companies throughout the States and abroad. In 2014, Christopher founded No)one. Art House, an organization that promotes and produces quality interdisciplinary art such as dance, film, and photography throughout the greater Los Angeles area.

Nicholas Korkos, Dancer*

Native San Franciscan Nicholas Korkos trained predominantly with Alonzo King's LINES Ballet school starting at the age of fifteen. Nicholas has been a member of Robert Moses' KIN, project agora, tinypistol, Zhukov Dance Theatre, Hubbard Street 2, Aszure Barton & Artists, Les Ballet Jazz de Montréal, and most recently performed as a guest artist with Lines Ballet.

Sam Shapiro, Dancer*

Sam Shapiro hails from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He began his ballet training at Wake Forest University under the direction of his mother, Brantly Shapiro. At age 11, he entered the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where he studied with the entire faculty including Duncan Noble, Nina Danilova and Gyula Pandi. At age 17 he joined The Royal Ballet's Upper School where he danced for three years, graduating with commendation. Sam danced in the Royal Ballet’s productions of Cinderella, La Fille mal gardée, Firebird, La Valse and Manon. He spent two years in Boston Ballet II and performed with Boston Ballet in many ballets such as Giselle and Romeo and Juliet. After Boston he spent two years with The North Carolina Dance Theater performing classical and contemporary repertoire. Favorite roles included Dwight Rhoden's Broken Fantasies and Mark Godden's Dracula. The next year was spent touring, performing freelance with Tulsa Ballet, Fort Wayne Ballet and Ballet National de Panamá. He joined The Royal New Zealand Ballet for the 2011-2012 season, and is now currently performing as a freelance artist and teacher.

Benjamin Holliday Wardell, Dancer*

Benjamin Holliday Wardell is the founder and Creative Director of The Cambrians. His dance training began in ballet and has since widened to encompass and ever broader range of techniques. In his fourteen years as a professional dancer, Ben has had the privilege to work with many of the world’s leading choreographers and movement researchers on innovative performance ventures. His career began with The Cincinnati Ballet, where he achieved the rank of soloist before moving to San Francisco to dance with Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet. Working with LINES allowed Ben to expand further into his understanding of the human body and the many ways to create dance performance. Moving from San Francisco, he joined Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. After working with this company for over four years, Ben began to freelance. Based in Chicago, he has toured internationally with Aszure Barton and Artists, created work with Ron de Jesus Dance and has been an ensemble member of Lucky Plush Productions since late 2011. He has originated works with master choreographers and in so doing gained a breadth of knowledge and professional respect, which allow him to forge new paths in dance creation. His methods center on generating work through large-scale, complex collaborations in which members of numerous dance genres and communities contribute their knowledge, movement and creativity to the creation of singular performance processes.  The purpose of these collaborations is to create high-quality, experimental art that audiences of diverse backgrounds can identify with and enjoy.   

Ben is the recipient of a 2014 Illinois Arts Council Fellowship Award and one of four 2015 Lab Artist Awards from Chicago Dancemakers Forum

Nikola Printz, Juno/Ino Cover*

Mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz makes her Opera Omaha debut this season covering the role of Juno/Ino in Handel’s Semele. The San Francisco native’s recent engagements include the title role of Carmen with Shreveport Opera and New Rochelle Opera, Olga (Eugene Onegin) with West Bay Opera, Emma (Zelmira) and Erika (Vanessa) with West Edge Opera, Zulma (L’italiana in Algeri) and Giovanna (Rigoletto) with Opera San José, Alisa (Lucia di Lammermoor) with Livermore Valley Opera and Unsere Mama in the U.S. premiere of Erling Wold’s chamber opera Uksus with San Francisco’s Mission Dance Theater. Equally at home in musical theater, she has appeared as Velma Louise Cole in the immersive musical-drama Speakeasy with Boxcar Theatre in 2014; a role she will reprise this June with the Company. Upcoming engagements include The Fox (The Cunning Little Vixen) with West Edge Opera and a reprisal of the role of Unsere Mama (Uksus) with Mission Dance Theater. Ms. Printz holds a bachelor’s degree from San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and will join Opera Memphis’s Artist-in-Residence program starting in fall 2016.

*Opera Omaha Mainstage Debut


J. Gawf │Chorus Master

Jacqueline Josten
Elaina Matthews
Cheyenne Nelson
Gretchen Pille*
Jensyn Rudolph

Mary Carrick
Emily Lindner*
Megan McGuire Parsons
Laura Petry
Susan Seamands

Juan Ahumada
Elijah Brown
Dillon Edwards
Connor Gelvin*
Kenneth Maxwell

Alexander Brown
Timothy Madden*
William A. Miller
Andrew Pratt
Matthew Weinrich*

*Opera Omaha Mainstage Debut


Thomas Wilkins │Music Director
Ernest Richardson │Principal Pops Conductor

Susanna Perry Gilmore, Concertmaster
Ann Beebe, Associate Concertmaster
Elizabeth Furuta, 2ND Associate Concertmaster
Christopher Hake, Assistant Concertmaster

Keith Plenert, Principal
Frank Seligman, Associate Principal
Scott Shoemaker
Tracy Dunn

Thomas Kluge, Principal
Brian Sherwood, Associate Principal
Margo Romig-Motycka

Paul Ledwon, Principal
Gregory Clinton, Associate Principal

Will Clifton, Principal
William Ritchie, Assistant Principal

Maria Harding, Principal

Alexandra Rock, Principal
Heather Baxter, Assistant Principal

James Compton, Principal

Ross Snyder, Principal
Sheryl Hadeka, Associate Principal

Scott Quackenbush, Principal
K. Craig Bircher, Associate Principal

Dwight Thomas, Principal

Rachel Sepulveda, General Manager
Jeff Baron, Assistant Stage Manager
Christina Biddle, Artistic Assistant
Bradford Courage, Orchestra Manager
Mark Haar, Assistant Librarian
Rick Jones, Stage Manager
Jennifer Kreitz-Couch, Operations and Production Manager
Kristin Patch, Artistic Manager
Jessica Slais, Music Librarian│Director of Artistic Planning



The Board of Directors and General Director Roger Weitz invite you to the Gala previewing our new production of



Gala Chairs
Richard D. Holland and Marian Leary

Honoring Frederick J. Simon

6:00 P.M.
Cocktails and hors d'oeuvres reception followed by dinner and entertainment throughout the evening.


Valet Parking | Cocktail Attire

Gala Dinner by Abraham Catering; Hors D'oeuvres and Gala After Party by Chef Paul Kulik of Omaha's Le Bouillon and The Boiler Room restaurants.

For more information regarding reserving a table or purchasing tickets,

Mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz, debuting this April covering the role of Ino/Juno in Handel’s Semele, performs a solo recital in the Auditorium at The Rose Blumkin Jewish Home, accompanied by Opera Omaha’s Resident Music Director J. Gawf.

This 45-minute program offers beloved melodies from both opera and musical theater along with popular standards. This performance will be followed by a brief Q & A session and ice cream social.

This special community concert is open only to members of The Rose Blumkin Jewish Home and The Jewish Community Center.

For reservations
, please contact Maggie Conti, Director of Activities and Outreach Program at The Rose Blumkin Jewish Home, by phone at 402.334.6521 or via email at

Location: The Rose Blumkin Jewish Home Auditorium
                   323 S. 132nd Street, Omaha, NE

FREE EVENT- Join Director James Darrah for this behind-the-scenes preview of Opera Omaha's new production of Handel's darkly comic opera, Semele. This free event will throw you into the creative process as Darrah explores the inspiration behind his upcoming production and shows the design elements that bring Handel's iconic opera to life. An audience Q&A will follow this 45-minute program.

6:30 PM      Complimentary Wine Reception
7:00 PM      Program

Location:   The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts
                     724 South 12th Street │Omaha, NE 68102

Walk-ins are welcome, but due to space limitations, reservations are encouraged. CLICK HERE to reserve.

FREE EVENT-Join us for this FREE 30-minute crash course into Handel’s tragic opera, Semele. Director James Darrah and Conductor Stephen Stubbs will provide the audience with a quick taste of the darkly comic mythological story that Handel's work is based upon, and give some behind-the-scenes insight into Darrah's new Opera Omaha production. Featuring a performance by two of Opera Omaha's principal artists: soprano Mary Feminear and mezzo-soprano Peabody Southwell. An audience Q&A will follow this half-hour program.

Tables will be set, so bring a meal and make the most of your lunch hour.

Lunchtime just got a little easier. Come early and purchase a meal from the CHICAGO DAWG HOUSE food truck, which will be parked on S. 19th Street, between Farnam and Douglas Streets, from 11:00 A.M. until 1:00 P.M.

Walk-ins are welcome, but due to space limitations, reservations are encouraged. CLICK TO RESERVE.

Location: Opera Omaha Rehearsal Room
1850 Farnam Street, Omaha, NE 68102
(Entrance located on S.19th Street between Farnam & Douglas Streets)

For more information on parking and wheelchair accessibility, click here.

Make the most of your evening at the opera. Opera Omaha ticketholders can tune up for Semele with a pre-performance talk in the Grand Lobby of the Orpheum Theater 40 minutes before each performance. These 20-minute crash courses introduce you to the opera you will be experiencing with insights on the story, music, history and more. 

The director of Semele, James Darrah, joins us to provide a quick taste of the themes and music behind Handel's darkly comic mythological story, along with insight into his new production. Whether you are new to opera or a seasoned aficionado, you’re sure to enjoy this behind-the-scenes talk. Come early as seating is limited.

FREE to all Semele ticketholders for the day listed on your opera ticket.

Make the most of your afternoon at the opera. Opera Omaha ticketholders can tune up for Semele with a pre-performance talk in the Grand Lobby of the Orpheum Theater 40 minutes before each performance. These 20-minute crash courses introduce you to the opera you will be experiencing with insights on the story, music, history and more. 

The conductor of Semele, Stephen Stubbs, joins us to provide a quick taste of the themes and music behind Handel's darkly comic mythological story, along with insight into this new production. Whether you are new to opera or a seasoned aficionado, you’re sure to enjoy this behind-the-scenes talk. Come early as seating is limited.

FREE to all Semele ticketholders for the day listed on your opera ticket.


Performance History
World Premiere: London: Covent Garden Theatre; February 10, 1744
Opera Omaha Premiere: April 8, 2016


By Director, James Darrah

Handel’s Semele is set entirely within two separate worlds—a first act mortal realm filled with real people, deeply wrenching unrequited love and an arranged marriage, while the later acts shift this human degree toward one of more potent and comical volatility in the realm of the transient and shifting surreal landscape of the immortal. As the story moves between acts Handel’s oratorio of shame, guilt, marriage, responsibility and religious fervor becomes one of jealousy, lust, dragons, lightning and magic mirrors but also destructive pride. Tackling these two worlds with the production design, we established a general set of “rules” for each world with loose guidelines that represent the mortal world as heavy, lateral, horizontals, metal textures with the only “verticals” existing as religious relics or icons. The women and men are bound; leather constrains the body and covers excess skin. The immortal realm, by contrast, is full of vertical lines of billowing and sinewy linen, not only giving Adam Larsen an exquisitely ephemeral canvas as projection designer, but layering the stage with an always shifting landscape. Costumes in the later acts become loose, voluminous with the godly excess and full of movement to echo Handel’s score.

As we began to craft this production with our cast, it became clear we would want an imaginative group that possessed the ability to also physically render the manifestation of these worlds. I’m thrilled the team this season includes lauded Spanish choreographer Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, as I specifically wanted his inventive physical vocabulary and sensibilities to help tackle this separation of our mortal/immortal worlds. Peabody Southwell and I had many initial discussions about the best ways to portray the dual roles of Juno and Ino physically, and out of those conversations came the idea that she would portray Ino only vocally, tasking Janice Lancaster with the physical manifestation of the character onstage and allowing Sansano the ability to choreograph Ino in ways that are almost impossible for a singer to achieve while singing but still allowing Southwell the richness of Juno’s manipulation of Ino’s human form. All of us were excited to have the most silenced and timid character in the opera truly danced physically and we became eager to experiment and see what the results would be onstage. Similarly decided was that Jupiter, our king of gods, would work with Sansano and our male dancers to essentially split his physicality between multiple people during key moments dramaturgically. His voice may be embodied by a quick, fast moving tenor—but his sense of physicality could potentially be multi-faceted and unable to be fully contained by one body. Such exploration, of which there are countless examples, is possible because of Opera Omaha’s commitment toward assembling exciting creative teams and fostering an atmosphere of experimentation and new productions.

In that vein, this production of Semele represents both a culmination of three years of projects thematically and also a point of departure. In 2014, this production’s same design team crafted a new Agrippina that focused on the piece’s volatile Romans from a human, character-driven point of view and brought Omaha some early Handel from an intimate perspective with a cast of visceral acting singers. With last year’s A Flowering Tree, we imported a larger physical dance component, employed heavy use of the chorus, abstracted the setting, and dealt with large swaths of location and storytelling. With our production of Semele, many of these ideas and components have combined as we again delve into early music with one of Handel’s great (and innately theatrical) oratorios. Handel deliciously employs heavy use of a chorus but also a potent human through-line, even as the mortals become caught in the warring gods’ wake.


By Conductor, Stephen Stubbs

Handel was certainly the greatest musical dramatist between Monteverdi and Mozart, and only two or three further names could justly be added to that elite company for the entire history of opera. From the time he wrote his first opera, Almira, in Hamburg at the age of 19, until his death, his life and career were devoted to music’s power to heighten the impact of drama; first through opera itself and for the last twenty-five years of his life through his invention of the English Oratorio.

Our modern perception of Handel, particularly in America, is so dominated by the omni-presence of Messiah, that it is only in the past fifty years or so, and aided by the early music revival during the same period, that we have begun to perform some of his more than forty Italian operas. Even more recently there has been a dawning awareness that these works are fully formed musical and dramatic masterpieces.

Handel presented his first large-scale public oratorio, Esther, in 1732 (preceded by a smaller scale version of the same piece for private performance at Cannons in 1718), and his last Italian opera, Deidamia, in 1741. Although Handel the musical dramatist excelled in both forms, the oratorio was significantly different in being performed in concert form without action, being in English rather than Italian, using largely religious themes rather than secular, and most significant structurally, by the inclusion of large amounts of music for chorus. At the crux of his career between his last opera in 1741 and a decade of intense composition of oratorio, he composed Messiah on a biblically derived text devised by Charles Jennens and premiered it in Dublin in 1742. The pious Jennens was not satisfied with the result writing to a friend “he (Handel) made a fine entertainment of it, though not near so good as he might and ought to have done!”

When, in the following season, Handel turned to an older opera libretto by William Congreve (written in 1707 for the composer John Eccles) as the basis for his newest oratorio on the story of Semele, Jennens dismissed it as an unworthy subject and a “bawdy entertainment”. One of Handel’s closest friends, Mary Delany, described the situation in general: Semele “has a strong party against it, viz. the fine ladies, petit maîtres, and ignoramus’s”. Despite the upright moral of the story – a cautionary tale against overweening ambition and sexual license – there seems to have been just too much treachery, jealousy, sex and fun, before getting to the moral, for the straight-laced and pious segment of the oratorio crowd. Regardless of its reception at the time, the artistic result for us is the lone example of an English “Opera” from Handel (unless we consider the oratorio Hercules from 1745 or the early chamber opera Acis and Galatea written, like Esther, for private performance in 1718).

There is a small irony in the fact that Messiah’s overwhelming popularity in this country is partly because it is in English, while our Italian-centred institution of the Opera House is far more likely to produce one of his Italian operas rather than Semele. It also requires a special effort to mount because of the large amount of choral music to be memorized for the stage. But as an artistic artifact, Semele is certainly a grand Handelian masterpiece to set beside Messiah (almost a secular sister-work), and I believe that, performed with the right combination of imagination, skill and inspiration, it could well enter into the mainstream of beloved operatic masterpieces.



Orpheum Theater  | Slosburg Hall

 Fri, Apr 8, 2016    7:30 p.m.

Sun, Apr 10, 2016  2:00 p.m.

Approx. 3hrs
Includes one intermission


This new production is made possible through generous support by 






This production of Semele is a co-production of Opera Omaha and Opera Philadelphia.




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