John Eccles: Semele (c.1707)

SKU: AAM012 Category:

Released in January 2021, the Academy of Ancient Music, Cambridge Handel Opera Company, Cambridge Early Music and Julian Perkins are proud to present the first professional recording of John Eccles’s Semele (c.1707), a notable early setting of the great English libretto by William Congreve better known in a version by GF Handel from 1744.

The Academy of Ancient Music’s mission is to explore, reveal and preserve the great treasure house of baroque and classical music, and a spirit of newfound discovery runs through all our work. Eccles’s Semele is the next step on this journey, released here on 2 CDs in deluxe hardback presentation with an extensive accompanying full-colour booklet containing scholarly essays, Stephen Fry’s modern re-telling of the story, autograph manuscript images of Eccles’ score, the full libretto text and much more. A fascinating insight into how opera in England might have developed after Henry Purcell’s death had not Handel moved to London in 1712, Eccles’s Semele is the perfect addition to any baroque-music lover’s library.

“John Eccles’ Semele is nothing short of a revelation.” Rhinegold

“Astonishing playing from the Academy of Ancient Music.” Dame Emma Kirkby, Opera

“Reviving one of the forgotten gems of English opera, this first professional recording of Eccles and Congreve’s drama is revelatory, bringing out the work’s wit, charm and drama” Planet Hugill

”This release marks a significant new chapter in the performance history of Eccles’ Semele. Performed to the very highest vocal, instrumental and scholarly standards, it is simply unmissable.” Opera Now

Julian Perkins leads a dozen excellent soloists and the joint forces of the Cambridge Handel Opera Company, Cambridge Early Music and the Academy of Ancient Music … This new version is a real revelation” Les amis d’Ovide

A real discovery … the documentation is outstanding, with so much context to pore over in the almost 200 page book. But it’s the music that’s the winner. The more I listen to it, the more I love this. What a resurrection it is.” BBC Record Review (30/01/2021)

“Handsomely packaged with copious documentation, this is a recording that by rights should put Eccles on the map.” The Times ****

This isn’t the work’s first recording, but it is the first major one with professional forces, and it’s good enough to put this Semele, and its composer, firmly on the map” The Guardian *****

With the Academy of Ancient Music, the director Julian Perkins reveals a work that exceeds the superficially attractive, his charged reading embracing high drama and deep emotion. Excellent performances from Richard Burkhard (Jupiter), Anna Dennis (Semele) and the remarkable Helen Charlston (Juno).Sunday Times

Semele has become the latest labour of love from the Academy of Ancient Music, whose lavishly packaged, presented and researched new account in partnership with Julian Perkins and Cambridge Handel Opera gives this footnote of a work the passionate advocacy it has long been waiting for.” Limelight Magazine (Editor’s Choice)

“Anna Dennis is delightful as the ambitious mortal Semele … Richard Burkhard and Helen Charlston mine some divine comic scenes… The rest of the large cast is excellent and Julian Perkins gets a fizzing performance out of the Academy of Ancient Music, enough to make Eccles seem a rival to Handel” Financial Times ****

“The Academy of Ancient Music creates an appropriately resonant but vigorous account… a sumptuous package that has become a hallmark of AAM’s releases of little-known and undiscovered compositions” Classical Source


Jupiter, King of the Gods – Richard Burkhard, baritone
Juno, Queen of the Gods – Helen Charlston, mezzo soprano
Iris, handmaid to Juno – Héloïse Bernard, soprano
Cupid, God of Love – Bethany Horak-Hallett, mezzo soprano
Somnus, God of Sleep – Christopher Foster, bass
Apollo, Sun God and God of Prophecy – Jolyon Loy, baritone

Cadmus, King of Thebes – Jonathan Brown, baritone
Semele, daughter of Cadmus – Anna Dennis, soprano
Ino, sister of Semele – Aoife Miskelly, soprano
Athamas, a prince of Bœotia – William Wallace, tenor
Chief Priest – Graeme Broadbent, bass
Second Priest / First Augur – Rory Carver, tenor
Third Priest / Second Augur – James Rhoads, tenor

Julian Perkins, Director
Academy of Ancient Music

Release date: 29 January 2021.