As I take myself thru the paces of learning Arsace, something I have been wanting to do for many years now, I’m getting into a good grove. Yesterday I reviewed the recits I had learned the day before, as well as making more inroads into my duet with Assur, which is extensive. I found it helpful to make a road map of what Act 1 looks like for Arsace, and that way lay out clear goals by day of what to learn and review.
ACT I – Role of Arsace in Rossini’s Semiramide
No. 4 Recitativo: “Ecomi al fine in Babilonia”
Aria: “Ah, quel giorno”
No. 5 Scena and duet with Assur
Recitativo after Semiramide’s Bel raggio “Al tuo comando”
No. 8 duet “Serbami ognor”
No. 10 Quintet
I’m hampered by not having a cut sheet, at this point I’m learning all the notes and passages. Without really knowing the overall architecture of the opera, it already reads to me as a masterpiece. The recitatives are very dramatic and theatrical; Rossini exposes the characters sometimes rapidly changing emotions and thoughts with sudden harmonic changes to allude to different emotional states. In this way it reminds of Handel’s craft in his opera Alcina.
Rossini is always looking for coloratura passages that highlight the characters personality, that follow them as a sort of leimotif; I will find some examples and post.
The recitative “Ecomi al fine” is a four page recitative that is preceded by a mini overture like prelude, that paints the sumptuous and mystery of the Babilonian temple that Arsace has gone for his secret appointment with the temple priests. A recent Naxos recording omits the recitative. So far Decca London Marilyn Horne disc with Sutherland and the live video on youtube with Lucia Valentini-Terrani are my favorite versions of this accompanied recitativo. This recit introduces the character and important information about the drama, in my opinion its a big mistake to cut it from the performance.
So on day 2, I have gone thru the recitatives Ecomi al fine; Ministri; recitative preceding duet with Assur E questo Assur, ch’io gia lo detesto; duet with Assur has several sections, I have gone over the first two expositions. Uncut this duet could last 15 minutes at least. It seems like Rossini builds his scenas like Neoclassical architecture; I want to reach out to my friends at the Rossini Gesellschaft about this comparison!
I found on youtube channel Addio bel passato has lovingly put Stigniani’s LP recital on line, and the Arsace aria that I fell in love (together with the recitative excerpted) can be heard.
On this current hearing (after 20 years!) the tempo is slow to my modern ear and coloratura slightly labored. She is very spare on the chest notes. The album is dated 1953, so she had already clocked in several decades of singing professionally. There is still a bright and stentorian quality to the upper register, but the the bel canto contraltina ease is not there in this recording. Memory can play tricks, and I have plans to listen to the LP on YouTube.
On to day 3! I will be going over sections of the first act with my pianist, so more later.