Filmed at New York's Metropolitan Opera, John Copley's production of Rossini's last, longest and most elaborate work for the Italian stage brings together what many consider the definitive contemporary cast, led by Marilyn Horne and June Anderson. Semiramide
, a strong and melodious work, is one of Rossini's greatest dramatic operas, offering a fine challenge to the superb contralto and soprano bel canto singing of Ms. Horne and Ms. Anderson. Sanford Olsen, Samuel Ramey, Marilyn Horne, June Anderson. James Conlon conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus. 220 minutes.
can be translated as "pretty singing," and that definition seems tailor-made for this production, which offers grace, charm, and a fine-tuned sense of style in abundance to compensate for its limited psychological and emotional impact. The four principal singers are all specialists in the bel canto style, and this opera has played a key role in building their substantial reputations. Their singing is more spectacular than their acting, but that is what bel canto is all about. Those who want gut-wrenching situations and passionate emoting should try the verismo
style. Meanwhile, for its sweeping musical imagination and technical wizardry, Rossini's epic about royal assassination and misdirected lust in the ancient Babylonian empire deserves a place in any inclusive opera collection, and we are not likely to have a better video Semiramide
recording in the foreseeable future.
June Anderson has an attractive appearance and sounds exactly right in the music's florid melodic lines. But she is not dramatically compelling as the wicked queen who had her husband killed and fell in love with a man who turned out to be her long-lost son, Arsace. Marilyn Horne rose to the highest levels of international fame in the role of that conflicted son, and her presence alone would be enough to give this video classic status. Her voice was a bit past its prime when this performance was recorded in 1991, but still there is no other voice quite like it, no other voice so suited to Rossini's heroic mezzo roles. Samuel Ramey is a close bass counterpart to Anderson: great tone, agile florid singing, and a rather wooden but visually appealing stage presence. Sanford Olsen has a small role and sings it almost perfectly. James Conlon gets excellent musical results; John Copley's staging is massive and static. --Joe McLellan