This was my second attempt to see Rossini’s “Semiramide” live since premiere at Bayerische Staatsoper – even if I had sourced so highly demanded ticket, severe bronchitis kept me home last spring – in fact, the only time I had to give up the performance due to health issue. Despite all obstacles I have seen livestream of the performance, but emotions are not comparable either watching opera on a small screen of the tablet or at the auditorium of the theatre live.
The opera is staged in London for the first time in modern era, – the previous one being in 1837, and it is the same production by David Alden that was premiered in Munich in 2015. The concept and symbolism used by director is non-time-bound, and you can read various historic and contemporary hints from the sets, costumes and movement of the characters. The libretto, based closely on the play of Voltaire’s “Sèmiramis”, addresses eternal questions of power, social status, love and lust.
A lot of contemporary details are well blending into historical story, the set is transformed in a very efficient way without disruptions of the flow and energy of the performance, even if the first part hads a bit too many attention disruptors. The most contemporary theme resonates through legend of female varrior and queen who actually is anti-heroine in her striving for dominance. Her destiny is the proof how devastating absolute power could be.
Joyce DiDonato as Semiramide was the star of the night, her glorious singing and acting defined the performance, especially in her showstopping “Bel raggio lusinghier” as well as incredible duets with Arsace – Daniela Barcellona – demonstrating us that the star cast of bel canto specialists can make time fly. Barcellonas low register delivers dark and spectacular tone, and her voice blends perfectly with DiDonato. Notably, each phrase carries dramatic meaning and forms engaging, highly believable theatrical experience.
Main antagonist Assur by Michele Pertusi, who was replacing ailing Ildebrando Archangelo, delivered dramatically engaging performance, especially the mad scene.
Lawrence Brownlee as Idreno demonstrated unbelievable vocal technique, his voice negotiating any challenges of the score with ease – seemingly no limits either for achieving top notes or delivering ornamentation.
The orchestra under agile and energetic Antonio Pappano sounded gloriously, and it seems that Rossini gradually becomes one of my favorite opera composers. This production certainly would be great addition to any opera DVD collection, so lets hope that after those two runs we will have chance for replay at home.
Music Gioachino Rossini
Libretto Gaetano Rossi
Director David Alden
Set designer Paul Steinberg
Costume designer Buki Shiff
Lighting designer Michael Bauer
Choreographer Beate Vollack
Conductor Antonio Pappano
Semiramide Joyce DiDonato
Assur Michele Pertusi
Arsace Daniela Barcellona
Idreno Lawrence Brownlee
Azema Jacquelyn Stucker
Oroe Bálint Szabó
Mitrane Konu Kim
Nino’s Ghost Simon Shibambu
Photo credits: Wilfried Hösl
Performance of December 8th, 2017, Royal Opera House