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