The Metropolitan Opera give this live performance of Rossini's work based on the poem by Sir Walter Scott. Michele Mariotti conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus with Joyce DiDonato as Elena, the lady of the lake, who loves the heroic Malcolm (Daniela Barcellona). However, King James V (Juan Diego Flórez) arrives in the Highlands and sets his sights on Elena while her father Douglas (Oren Gradus), who is rebelling against the King's rule, promises his daughter to clan chief Rodrigo (John Osborn).
Semiramide is Rossini's last opera seria. The title role was written for his wife, Isabella Colbran. The extremely florid vocal style is often a vehicle for spectacular vocal display rather than an intrinsic part of the score. The ensemble-scenes (particularly the duos between Arsace and Semiramide) and choruses are also of a high order, as is the orchestral writing, which makes full use of a large pit. The work starts with a well-known overture, and throughout it calls for outstanding singers in the leading soprano and contralto roles. Semiramide is occasionally performed but is not part of the standard operatic repertoire.
Countertenor performances of 19th century opera are a historical and, ultimately, true novelty. This said, for those who love the sound of the countertenor voice and want to give it a try, there are several factors that recommend this release by countertenor Franco Fagioli, with the small orchestra Armonia Atenea under George Petrou. First is that castrati were still around in Rossini's time, although on the decline, and the composer was reportedly intrigued by their voices. Second, Fagioli, unlike the vast majority of other countertenors, studied bel canto singing rather than Baroque repertory exclusively, and a certain distance present in the work of other countertenors is absent here. And third, and most important, is Fagioli's voice itself. Of the countertenors active today, he's the one with the range, the power, the attitude to make you suspend disbelief and think for a moment that you're actually listening to a castrato. He enters into the various Rossini roles represented on this recording, several of which were mezzo-soprano "pants" roles; this adds to the layers of identity-switching happening, and the parts hit Fagioli's vocal sweet spot. A bonus is that several of these are from Rossini opere serie that are little played or recorded.
Following his triumphant visit to Vienna in 1822, when several of his operas were extremely well-received, international success beckoned for Rossini. First performed at La Fenice, Venice in 1823, Semiramide was Rossini’s last Italian opera, written at the height of his creative powers. Its subject is Greek tragedy for which librettist Gaetano Rossi drew on an adaptation by Voltaire. Instrumentally sophisticated and classically structured, the opera remains one of the most remarkable examples of Rossini’s cultivation of bel canto. “This new Semiramide rivals Pesaro standards thanks to Fogliani’s ever-alert and lively conducting. His cast includes singers who challenge this long and wonderful opera’s most famous interpreters on disc…this is an unmissable bargain.” - Sunday Times
La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie) marked a culmination of the convergence of serious and comic elements in Rossini’s work. The result is an ideal hybrid: a tragic opera with a happy ending that rises to the status of true opera seria. With its outstanding dramatic and musical qualities it remains one of Rossini’s greatest and most successful operas, a constant presence in the repertoire since its triumphant 1817 première in Milan. This performance is conducted by Alberto Zedda, who made his conducting début in 1956, produced the first critical edition of La gazza ladra, and is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s foremost authorities on the operas of Rossini.
The great writer Stendhal wrote of Il viaggio a Reims that “this opera is a feast”. The plot is a contemporary farce tailor-made for a particular occasion—the coronation festivities of Charles X—though Rossini valued the music so highly that he reused at great part of the score three years later in the opera Le Comte Ory. With a cast of ten principal and eight smaller rôles, this sparkling work is heard complete for the first time and in accordance with the critical edition prepared by the Fondazione Rossini and Casa Ricordi.
Otello (Naples 1816)…has a strong cast, headed by Carreras's searingly noble Moor. The Desdemona is Frederica von Stade: chaste and as luminous as a sculpture in Carrara marble. The set also displays casting in depth. In Rossini's day Naples was awash with great tenors, a situation that nowadays creates prodigious difficulties. Yet both the Iago, Gianfranco Pastine, and the Rodrigo, Salvatore Fisichella, emerge with honour, barely bloodied and never for a moment bowed by Rossini's terrible arsenal of vocal effects. ''They have been crucifying Otello into an opera,'' wrote Byron in 1818. Well, yes and no. By all means treat Acts 1 and 2 as flashy rodomontade, but Act 3 is glorious, inspired enough and sufficiently close to Shakespeare to have been a near fatal deterrant to what Verdi called his own ''chocolate project''. I thrilled to it afresh—off-stage Gondolier and all—in these brilliant new CD transfers. (Richard Osborne, Gramophone)