University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Rossini: Semiramide, Act One

01/20/2019 1:00 pm
01/20/2019 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

This was the last opera Gioacchino Rossini would ever write for an Italian opera house. It premiered with success at Venice in 1823. Rossini and his wife, the soprano Isabella Colbran (who first sang the title role), soon thereafter relocated to Paris, where the esteemed composer spent most of the rest of his life, dying there in 1868. Semiramide played all over Europe in short order. All the great singers of Rossini's time wanted roles in it. But as the nineteenth century progressed and the age of bel canto came and went, Semiramide gradually passed out of the repertoire. Written at the dawn of the bel canto singing style, its coloratura passages required prodigious vocal agility. There were no longer singers who could handle the demands of the music--that is, until the bel canto revival of the mid twentieth century.

One remarkable voice championed this music: the Australian soprano Joan Sutherland. She was at the height of her vocal powers in 1965 when she recorded Semiramide for the Decca/London label. Sutherland is heard in the title role alongside another remarkable singer who took part in the revival, the American mezzo Marilyn Horne. Sutherland's husban,d conductor Richard Bonynge, directed the London Symphony Orchestra and Ambrosian Chorus. That old London LP release went over the air on this program on Sunday, May 23, 2010.

Semiramide has recently been recorded under the auspices of the Opera Rara record company, whose declared mission is "to rediscover, restore, record and perform the forgotten operatic heritage of the 19th century." This new studio recording of Rossini's bel canto masterpiece was made at Henry Wood Hall in London in August/September, 2016 following a concert-style performance for the BBC Proms. Sir Mark Elder conducts the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, with the Opera Rara Chorus. Starring as Semiramide, Queen of Babylon is Albina Shagimoratova. The Opera Rara studio production works from the critical edition of Rossini's score prepared by Philip Gossett and Alberto Zedda, the same edition that was employed in the Metropolitan Opera TV production of 1990 and which was published in 2001.

Rossini's Semiramide is a truly grand opera in scale and looks forward to the French grand operas of Meyerbeer soon to come. In fact, in recorded performance it is also of Wagnerian length. On four Opera Rara compact discs, it won't quite fit into one Sunday's three-and-a-half- hour-long timeslot. Semiramide is in two very long acts. You will hear Act One in its entirety this Sunday.