William Charlton-Perkins reviews a new CD recording of Rossini’s great Italian swansong, which premiered at La Fenice in Venice in 1823
The immense care that went into the making of Opera Rara’s recording of Rossini’s Semiramide has been exhaustively documented. In the light of the passion, respect and skill behind this hugely rewarding project, listeners will surely concur that these production attributes have borne fruit to an astonishing degree.
Indeed, British dramatist Terrence Rattigan’s famous dictum, ‘What makes magic is genius, and what makes genius is the infinite capacity for taking pains’, could not be more completely endorsed than it is here, by this singular venture.
In the hands of Sir Mark Elder and his inspired team, Rossini’s Italian magnum opus glows with a new-found immediacy from first to last. This is apparent with regard to its infinite detail in execution, both technical and artistic, and in the perfectly judged drive and unflagging energy that emanate from Elder’s baton throughout the opera’s magnificent span, which exceeds well over four hours. For the listener, this translates into an experience similar to seeing afresh the wonders of a familiar landscape master-painting, after extensive restoration.
Traditionalists may uphold their allegiances to legendary partnerships such as the Sutherland-Horne phenomenon of the 1970s. But there is no denying the visceral commitment and fire that emanate from Opera Rara’s principal cast - informed as they are here by Elder’s formidable expertise, and by the revelatory sounds of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s period-appropriate instruments and performance practice.
Soprano Albina Shagimuratova, a patrician artist fully in command of her slim-line but ample voice with its thrilling extended top, turns in a deeply affecting reading of the tortured queen of Babylon. Her singing is beautifully offset by the vibrant mezzo tones of Daniella Barcellona in commanding form as Arsace.
Daniella Barcellona, Albina Shagimuratova and Sir Mark Elder in the 2016 BBC concert performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall of Opera Rara’s Semiramide
Their performances climax in an incomparable account of their Act II duet, ‘Giorno d’orrore! E di contento’ ‘Madre, addio’ … ‘Tu serena intanto il ciglio’. This ranks with the most exciting bel canto singing in years. Their lightning swift, blazingly embellished coloratura in the cabaletta has to be heard to be believed. I reprised it four, no five, times before moving on.
Defying the odds of being a late replacement for the secondary yet important tenor role of Idreno, Barry Banks delivers the goods in grand style - as do Mirco Palazzi as Assur, Semiramide’s former partner in crime, and Gianluca Buratto as Oroe, while James Platt offers an eerily sonorous Ghost of Nino, Semiramide’s long-slain husband.
Don’t hesitate to invest in this superb audio recording, a new bench mark achievement in Opera Rara’s priceless catalogue of neglected 19th century repertoire.