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).
In spring 2011, the first-ever performances at New York's Metropolitan Opera of Rossini's Le Comte Ory brought standing ovations and critical-acclaim. The spectacular trio of Juan Diego Florez, Diana Damrau and Joyce DiDonato ignited vocal and theatrical fireworks. Le Comte Ory tells the story of a libidinous and cunning nobleman who disguises himself first as a hermit and then as a nun ("Sister Colette") in order to gain access to the virtuous Countess Adele, whose brother is away at the Crusades. The 2011 Met production was directed by the Tony Award-winning Broadway director Bartlett Sher, who in recent years has also staged Il barbiere di Siviglia and Les Contes d'Hoffman for the Met. Sher presented the action as an opera within an opera, updated the action by a few centuries and giving the costume designer, Catherine Zuber, the opportunity to create some particularly extravagant headgear. Juan Diego Florez starred as the title role while Diana Damrau plays his love interest, Countess Adele, and Joyce DiDonato was in breeches as his pageboy Isolier. The trio had appeared in Sher's production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia.
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