Opera Scotland

Semiramide Semiramis

Music
Gioachino Rossini (born Pesaro, 29 February 1792; died Paris, 13 November 1868) 

Text
Gaetano Rossi

Source
Drama Sémiramis (1748) by Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet 1694-1778).

Premieres
First performance: Venice (Teatro La Fenice), 3 February 1832.
First UK performance: London (King’s Theatre, Haymarket), 15 July 1824.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Theatre Royal), 19 February 1855.
Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.

Background
Semiramide was the final opera composed by Rossini in Italy, before his departure for Paris, and it is perhaps his grandest work to date.  The title role was created by Isabella Colbran, now Rossini’s wife, but the famous Neapolitan tenors were not involved, and the tenor role is perhaps less important than before. The opera was a great success at its Venetian premiere, and was immediately performed around Europe. It remained popular in Britain during most of the nineteenth century, outlasting any of his operas apart from The Barber of Seville. Its last performance at Covent Garden was in 1885, with Patti in the lead. It was performed regularly in Scotland until shortly before that. For anyone familiar with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, who may have wondered about the Pyramus and Thisbe story – remember “Meet me straightway at Ninny’s tomb?” – then here is your answer. Apart from the overture, the music which has retained greatest prominence is the sequence towards the end of the first act, where Semiramide sings the showpiece aria “Bel raggio lusinghier”, followed by her duet with Arsace, “Serbami ognor.”

Characters
Semiramide, Queen of Babylon (soprano)
Arsace, commander of the Assyrian armies (mezzo-soprano)
Azema. an Assyrian princess (soprano)
Assur, an Assyrian prince (bass)
Idreno, an Indian king (tenor)
Oroe, high priest of the Magi (baritone)
Mitrane, captain of the royal guard  (tenor)
Ghost of Ninus (bass)

Plot Summary
Semiramide encourages her lover Assur to murder her husband, King Ninus. Her son, Ninius, disappears, believed dead, and Semiramide rules in her own right. Fifteen years later, as the opera opens, she is about to announce the name of her successor. Idreno and Assur are the leading candidates for the throne and the hand of Azema, but it turns out that Semiramide has taken a fancy to young Arsace, her victorious military leader who has been summoned back to Babylon. However Arsace himself is in love with Azema, and she loves him. Not only that, but although he has been raised in the distant state of Scythia, something only the high priest Oroe knows is that Arsace is actually Ninius, the son of Ninus and Semiramide, rescued and spirited away to safety after the coup. As the queen announces that Arsace is her successor, the ghost of her late husband appears from his tomb, demanding that Arsace punish the late king’s murderers. Assur and Semiramide resort to mutual recriminations, while Oroe tells Arsace of his true identity. All the principals gather in Ninus’ tomb, where Assur has decided to kill Arsace. Oroe forestalls him by ordering Arsace to kill Assur, but the queen interposes herself in the darkness and is killed instead. Assur is arrested, and Arsace, horrified at having killed his own mother, finally accepts the throne with great reluctance.

The Cast

Arsace
 commander of the Assyrian armies
Assur
 an Assyrian prince
Azema
 an Assyrian princess
Boy
 
Ghost of Ninus
 
Idreno
 an Indian king
Mitrane
 captain of the royal guard
Oroe
 high priest of the Magi
Semiramide
 Queen of Babylon

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