BBC Music Magazine

Nothing tragic about this Babylonian epic

Rossini’s final Italian opera might be almost four hours long, but Erica Jeal is in it for the long haul and crowns it a triumph


Albina Shagimurat­ova, Daniela Barcellona, Mirco Palazzi, Barry Banks, Gianluca Buratto, Susana Gaspar, David Butt Philip,

James Platt (voices); Opera Rara Chorus; Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenm­ent/sir Mark Elder Opera Rara ORC57 231.03 mins (4 discs)

Semiramide, premiered in Venice in 1823, is landmark Rossini in at least two ways: it’s the last Italian-style opera the composer wrote, and it’s also the longest. A complete performanc­e clocks in at around four hours – and that is what Opera Rara offers in this immaculate studio recording, made in the weeks before its 2016 BBC Prom featuring the same forces.

Yes, it’s long – but, the question is, what exactly would you cut in this performanc­e?

Sir Mark Elder’s pacy, dramatical­ly-taut conducting makes it almost impossible to say. Obviously not ‘Bel raggio lusinghier’, the title role’s big, chorus-accompanie­d aria, which along with the overture was the only item that kept the name of the opera familiar for nearly a century until a pioneering 1962 revival at La Scala starring Joan Sutherland. Albina Shagimurat­ova sings it beautifull­y, and with more personalit­y than most sopranos manage to inject into music that is this ornate. And you certainly wouldn’t want to lose a moment of her ensuing duet with

Daniela Barcellona’s Arsace, their parallel lines supple and nuanced, both characters basking in the anticipati­on of assumed future happiness even if they are at cross purposes as to how that joy should be found.

Semiramide has more than its share of grandness, and in the trumpet-crowned procession as

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