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Rossini: Semiramide

4.6 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Performer: Joan Sutherland
  • Conductor: Richard Bonynge
  • Composer: Gioachino Rossini
  • Audio CD (October 10, 2006)
  • SPARS Code: ADD
  • Number of Discs: 3
  • Label: Decca
  • ASIN: B000I8OFHI
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #23,992 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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By S. Wells on December 22, 2007
Format: Audio CD
I still remember how thrilled I was when I first heard this recording nearly 40 years ago. It still stands up very well, although it was in the vanguard of the revival of serious Rossini singing.

Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne were a famous combination both on record and on stage. Here they are presented at the very height of their formidable combined powers. At this point, Dame Joan's voice is fresh and firm, free from the scoops, swoops and mannerisms that later became associated with her singing. Alas, even at the time of this recording, her pronunciation had begun to deteriorate. There's little drama in her portrayal of the Babylonian queen, but one can still revel in the sheer beauty of the voice and the blazing coloratura. Marilyn Horne, however, has plenty of passion and power. Here alone is ample evidence of why this magnificent artist was so instrumental in the revival of Rossini's serious operas. The voice is rich, the technique perfect and the coloratura brilliant. A breathtaking achievement! (I had the pleasure of seeing her Arsace in the theatre, as well as her Calbo in "Maometto II", the title role in "Tancredi" and her comic renditions of Rosina, Isabella and Cenerentola.)

The men on this recording aren't so well represented. True, John Serge does a creditable job of the one aria he's allowed. But Joseph Rouleau (Assur) and Spiro Malas (Oroe) can't even fudge their fioratura.

Richard Bonynge conducts his own, heavily cut, version of the score. As a point of reference, it's about 45 minutes shorter than Ion Marin's recording on DG using the critical edition published by the Rossini foundation. As a first, or only, recording of this opera, I'd recommend that on DG. But, no one who appreciates Rossini or coloratura singing will want to be without this set. The women are worth it!
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Format: Audio CD
SEMIRAMIDE, an "opera seria" set in Babylon with a somewhat complicated plot where a widowed queen and mother like no other holds her throne for her long lost son who ends up killing her (at least in the original libretto), has all the elements that once made these operas such a success: vocal acrobatics required by the lead singers, a large orchestra and chorus, and a lavish setting. This work of Rossini, which was once one of his most popular works, is not staged that often today, due largely to the difficulties in finding performers who can do justice to the work. Every few years the work will be staged, usually at large houses such as The Metropolitan Opera in New York, and opera fans discover a hidden jewel.

This recording is often considered the best studio recording available. Joan Sutherland as Semiramide and Marilyn Horne in a "trouser role" as the armed forces captain/long lost son Arsace is an excellent pairing for this opera. Both are in top vocal form and perform well together. Tenor John Serge is great at the flourishes required in the role of Idreno though at times his voice sounds a bit strained. The Ambrosian Opera Chorus has a full sound which is critical to this opera. The recording is held together by the conducting of Richard Bonynge who seems to have a love of the work and a respect for the music.

This is the second time London/Decca has released this set. TRhe first time it was included in its mid-priced "Grand Opera" series. Other more recent recordings are more musically authentic as far as cuts and actual notes are concerned, but most listeners probably want the Rossini flourishes and vocal tricks that make his music lovable and this is the set that delivers it best.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This recording should be the non plus ultra of Semiramide recordings. The singing is absolutely glorious and phenomenal. Unfortunately, it has a serious flaw that you would never suspect. The flaw is that Marilyn Horne is severely under miked. She sounds like she is singing from another room! Sutherland comes in loud and clear, and then you hear this faint mezzo in the distance. It pretty much ruins the whole recording. I had to turn the sound up so loud that I was surely annoying the neighbors. There is a live recording of Caballe, Horne, and Ramey available, which has much more balanced sound, albeit live. Caballe and Horne make an electric team, with Caballe keeping up splendidly with Horne's extraordinarily fast coloratura work. They sound like they are competing with each other and the crowd goes bananas!
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Format: Audio CD
Anyone who automatically thinks of Rossini primarily as a composer of opere buffe needs to reacquaint himself with "Semiramide", one of the most successful of his opere serie, composed six years before his final operatic masterpiece, "Guillaume Tell" and which did much to sustain his reputation as serious musician.

The plot is pure hokum but sufficient to set up situational conflicts which find their emotional expression in fine ensembles and pyrotechnic-stratospheric coloratura arias of the kind thought virtually unsingable in the twentieth century until Sutherland and Horne came along not only to sing them but embellish them spectacularly.

One listens to this recording for them and to hear Bonynge in one of his most successful recordings, directing an excellent LSO and the highly professional and responsive Ambrosian Opera Chorus. The rest of the cast is at best negligible: we have a trio of competent, rich-toned basses singing heftily in the modern manner but without much facility in the required idiom and a rather constricted but musical tenor in John Serge, whose role is small. What we really want to hear is two great powerhouse singers recreating the kid of excitement generated by the creators of their roles, Rossini's wife Isabella Colbran and Rosa Mariani.

Already 45 years old, this recording stands up very well, despite being somewhat cut. The sound is excellent, as was the norm from Decca in the 60's, and the vocal highlights simply breathtaking. Sutherland's diction was already a bit mushy, even at this comparatively early stage but the voice is in glorious estate, utterly thrilling in its power and flexibility.
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