Review of this week’s live broadcast at CMC in Breckenridge: Rossini’s ‘Semiramide’
Rossini’s two-act opera, “Semiramide,” returns to the Metropolitan Opera House for the first time in 25 years. The HD Broadcast will be at the Breckenridge Colorado Mountain College on Saturday, March 10, beginning at 10:55 a.m.
The Metropolitan Opera administration probably did not intend to make a political statement when it decided to restore Rossini’s “Semiramide” to the repertory after such a long absence. This opera production, with its setting in ancient Babylon, currently the country of Iraq, may have special fascination for history buffs. This historical drama, in which a murderous ruler comes to a violent end at the hands of a disillusioned lover, is a story with 21st-century recurrence.
The story of “Semiramide” can be briefly told. Semiramia, queen of ancient Babylon, assisted by Prince Assur, who expects to win her hand in marriage in succession to the throne, murders her husband, King Ninus. Semiramide, in turn, is enamored by Arsace, the victorious commander of her army. It is disclosed later that Arsace in reality is her own son, the relationship known only by Oroe, the chief priest of the temple. Arsace himself, however, is in love with the royal Princess Azema.
The exploits of these three principal personages are revealed in a series of solo, duet and trio bel-canto arias, with intermittent background choral support. The last act takes place in the tomb of Ninus. These three principal personages of this opera are brought together at its climax during a visit to the tomb. Semiramia, in her attempt to save Arsace, interposes herself as Assur makes a fatal thrust to kill him. In this act of protection, she receives a death wound. In the end, Arsace fights and kills Assur, opening up his ascent to the throne.
This masterpiece of dazzling vocal fireworks features Maurizio Benini on the podium, reported to have led a “crisp, clear orchestral rendition.” The all-star bel canto cast features Angela Meade in the title role of the murderous Queen of Babylon, who squares off in breathtaking duets with Arsace, a trouser role sung by Elizabeth DeShong. The role of Assur is performed by bass-baritone Ildar Abdrazakof. In a press review of the opening performance, the plot is described as “a heady mixture of romantic intrigue and jockeying for power that unfolds in a sprawling pageant of arias and duets.” Also cited was the stage setting by John Conklin, portraying ancient Babylonian ruin and rubble, along with timely costumes by designer Michael Stennett.
Although the broadcast of this opera is a bit long with two acts approaching 90 minutes each, the evening has been described as a “feast of voices, as any work in the bel canto tradition should” be. Those attending again are advised to bring their own intermission lunches and snacks. Beverages will be provided.
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