BBC Music Magazine

An interview with Sir Mark Elder


Why record this specific opera? After we’d done a few completely unknown operas, I thought it might be exciting to find a very familiar title and do it in an unusual way. Semiramide seemed to fit the bill, but I didn’t know that there was going to be a revival at the Met, or a new production at Covent Garden.

So, the piece has come back into people’s awareness, but there were years where nobody ever did it. The famous recording that Joan Sutherland made is 50 years old! It comes from a completely different era.

It’s long! Were you attempted to abridge it?

I said right from the beginning if we’re going to do it, there would be no point unless we did it all; I trusted Rossini’s command of these enormous spans of time. Actually, in doing it all, I found that Rossini planned it absolutely beautifull­y, and how the balance of the numbers, and the fiery and bold recitative­s would make a very interestin­g soundworld. What difference would modern instrument­s have made?

The timbre of the instrument­s would give you a completely different flavour for the music. There would be nothing heavy about it; it would be fleet and the players would be able to articulate fast – the tempos could really move, if you could get singers to keep up! I think of the sound of the four horns at the beginning of the Overture… You cannot get that quality of sound with modern horns, because every note would be open, rich and round, like Strauss. I think it has an incredible pure Classical beauty about it, which you could not get with modern instrument­s.

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