Rossini, Semiramide (complete), A. Penda, M. Pizzolato, Virtuosi Brunensis, A. Fogliani (Naxos, 2013)
(released on October 23, 2015)
Paraty 135205 | 68'02"
Semiramide, Rossini's last Italian opera before moving to Paris, rarely sees the stage today, long after its premiere at La Fenice in 1823. It is a perfect option for Washington Concert Opera, which regularly brings top-notch performances of operas you will likely never hear anywhere else in Washington. The score has some gorgeous music, but the libretto, by Gaetano Rossi after a play by Voltaire, is a dud. Spanning three and a half hours when it is complete, the opera requires some cuts, but this performance excised only about fifteen minutes of music. Without some magnificent sets and costumes to distract the eye, it made for a long but mostly enjoyable evening in the theater.
Australian soprano Jessica Pratt was outstanding in the title role, with broad power at the top to carry over the full textures, a shimmering high pianissimo, and excellent agility in the melismatic passages. She was regal in vocal presence, the only reservation being a low range that did not really carry. Sadly, she was not matched well with mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux, who has always impressed in Baroque opera recordings but not so much in 19th-century opera when a large hall has to be filled with sound. Genaux brilliantly handled the fioriture as Arsace, whom Semiramide wishes to take as her lover before discovering he is her long-lost son, but the voice just did not have enough heft, requiring conductor Antony Walker to rein in his orchestra whenever she sang.
Anne Midgette, Stars dimmer than expected in the concert Rossini opera ‘Semiramide’ (Washington Post, November 24)
David Rohde, ‘Semiramide’ with Washington Concert Opera at Lisner Auditorium (D.C. Metro Theater Arts, November 23)
The orchestra and chorus both sounded under-rehearsed and maybe under-staffed, in the case of the chorus, where a seemingly smaller number of singers were not as sure as they could have been. The four horns, which feature in the final scene of Act I, when Semiramide announces that she will marry Arsace, and in the overture, were on the money, but the string sound was often ragged. Too many early entrances (timpani, trumpet) and flubbed notes contributed to the sense of general confusion, in spite of Walker's best attempts to wade through all that music at the podium.
Hopefully, things will be in better shape for the second performance of Washington Concert Opera, featuring Donizetti's La Favorite, starring Ionarts favorite Kate Lindsey (March 4, 2016).