On Feb. 12 Joyce DiDonato adds her name to the pantheon of sopranos who have performed the daunting role of Rossini’s “Semiramide.” DiDonato will premiere a new production from the Bayerische Staatsoper and it is her role debut as well.
Having been Rossini’s final Italian opera, there is a reason it has become so popular in recent times. As a result, OperaWire takes a look at some of the important moments and people associated with the work throughout its history.
The opera was written for Rossini’s muse and wife, Colbran. It was the final opera that he wrote for her after having written “Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra (1815),” “Otello (1816),” “Armida (1817),” “Mosè in Egitto (1818),” “Maometto II (1820),” and five other Rossini operas for her. Noted as a dramatic soprano, Colbran’s voice was identified by a rich middle and a voice that could go from a low F Sharp to a high F. Many albums have been dedicated to her work including one that DiDonato recorded a few years back.
Disappearance and Revival
Outside of the performance that the Metropolitan Opera did in 1895, “Semiramide” disappeared from the repertoire. It was not until 1932 that the work was revived in a German translation in Rostock. Then Tulio Serafin revived the work in 1940. However, after the Ricordi archives were destroyed during the war in 1944, a full new score was needed. When the opera was presented in its new modern version in 1962 by Joan Sutherland and Giuletta Simionato, photographic reproductions were used to put the score together and careful preparation was made.
In 1882 the opera appeared as part of the Cincinnati Opera Festival which was attended by Oscar Wilde. That year Adelina Patti chose “Bel Raggio,” Semiramide’s aria for her farewell performance. That would be the start of a tradition as the aria became used as a virtuoso piece by many sopranos including Joan Sutherland, Edita Gruberova, June Anderson Sumi Jo and Anna Moffo. If anything, it has become the most popular piece in the entire opera.
The Metropolitan Opera
In 1990 the Metropolitan Opera presented a new production of the work in a new critical edition that would later be used throughout the world. The company had not shown the work in 95 years and as a result a star studded cast was needed to make the work succeed. Marilyn Horne and Samuel Ramey led the cast with Lella Cuberli making her Met debut as Semiramide. Chris Merritt made his Met debut as Idreno. The opera was later presented on television but it was June Anderson who was featured on the broadcast in the title role. The opera was later released on DVD and presented again in 1993 before disappearing from the Metropolitan Opera repertory. Since then the opera has become very popular all over the world and due to its length it has been more popular on the concert stage.