Rossini’s comedic operas are undeniably the ones for which he is best recognized, but there are a number of Opera Seria that tend to get overlooked when they shouldn’t.
One of those is “Semiramide,” an opera long considered one of the composer’s finest and growing in reputation in recent years. In a recent interview with OperaWire, conductor José Miguel Pérez-Sierra called it one of the “Top 10” in the entire operatic repertoire.
The work premiered on Feb. 3, 1823, has often been noted as an opera in the baroque tradition and is also the last of Rossini’s Italian operas. The work is not a fixture in most opera houses, though it does get continuous revivals and recent trends indicate that it is set to stick around for quite some time.
Short Plot Summary
Assur notes that the day has come for the Queen to choose a successor. Semiramide is unable to make the decision and the temple is plunged into darkness. All desert the temple. The warrior Arsace arrives, noting that he was sent for by Semiramide. Arsace declares his love for Azema, who is promised to Ninia, and rejects Assur’s bid for the throne.
Arsace, who has carried a casket belonging to his dead father, shows the contents to Oroe who runs off with them. Assur confronts Arsace who confesses to loving Azema as well.
Idreno asks for the hand of Azema, and she notes that it must be Semiramide’s decision. She tells him that she would never be with Assur, which calms Idreno.
Semiramide has fallen in love with Arsace and awaits his arrival. She meets with him and he states that he is willing to die for his queen if necessary.
Semiramide names Arsace the successor to mixed reactions. She asks to be united with him in marriage but the ghost of King Nino appears to everyone’s horror and issues a warning.
Semiramide and Assur argue over the murderer of Nino, as both of them are guilty. Assur continues pressuring the queen.
Arsace learns that he is Nino’s son, and thus Semiramide’s son as well. He learns of the traitors of his father and he eventually declares his intention to have revenge. He confronts his mother who asks him to take his vengeance. He offers filial loyalty but knows that he must return to his father’s tomb to see what action must be taken. Arsace, Assur, and Semiramide enter the tomb. Arsace accidently strikes his mother and reluctantly accepts he will be king as she dies.
Watch and Listen
Here is a recording from 1992 in Venice with Mariella Devia, Ewa Podles, Carlo Colombara, Luca Canonici, and Monica Valenti.