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Rossini’s torrid tale Semiramide at the Royal Opera House is a thrilling treat

07 December, 2017 — By Sarah Dawes

Joyce DiDonato in Semiramide at the Royal Opera House. PHOTO: Tristram Kenton

Rossini’s torrid tale Semiramide has the usual opera themes of murder, love, devotion, guilt and retribution, mixed up with ghosts and oracles.

The Royal Opera House production, lasting nearly four hours, could be an ordeal if the magical music, directed by Antonio Pappano, didn’t keep you on the edge of your seat. The atmosphere is thrilling throughout.

The overture is slow and quiet at first, with a fabulous melody played on the horns, followed by several unforgettable refrains and what might be called an oompah section. The orchestra are clearly enjoying themselves!

The brilliant coloratura singing of Joyce DiDonato (Queen Semiramide) is matched by the verve of the other principals. Daniela Barcellona, (mezzo) is terrific as her long lost son, Arsace, who ran away after seeing his father murdered by his mother, and has returned as a favoured army commander. Their duets are full of passion and rapture and an incestuous relationship is narrowly avoided when his true identity is revealed by the old priest Oroe, sung impressively by Balint Szabo (bass).

Even the baddie, the Queen’s former lover Assur, sung by Michele Pertusi, has more than a few wonderful musical moments.

Rossini makes the most villainous music almost jolly, with hardly a minor key within ear shot. This is because his music is so full of memorable tunes and amazing vocal challenges for the singers.

In this production these challenges are met with ease, sensitivity and skill, without any signs of strain.

• Rossini’s Semiramide is at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on December 8, 13 and 16, 6.30pm, 020 7304 4000,


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