Rossini leaves no stone unturned in Semiramide in terms of human interaction, emotional states; shades of unspoken are throughout the score. The recitatives that I have sung thru so far are all studied little gems of characterization and theater. I have never participated or studied his opera seria from Rossini’s Neopolitan years and I’m seriously stunned now that I’m examining Semiramide; These have nothing to do with Barbiere, Cenerentola or Italiana in Algeri. They have the same degree of psychological depth of recitatives by Handel, Mozart and Verdi. I will need to conjure a real theatrical accent and would have to have a pretty great and accomplished conductor that can truly accompany and bring these recits to life.
I have sung the first act duet between Arsace and Semiramide “Serbami ognor” a few times in concerts these past two years, but had never bothered to look at the recitative that precedes this duet. Semiramide (in the book “History thru the Opera Glass” by George Jellinek, the author cites that tradition has it she was the creator of the famous Babylonian Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world) is a character I’m still trying to figure out; what is certain is that she is an anti heroine: complicated, sexy, very feminine, capable of murder and with a thirst for power, but also vulnerable (she allows herself to fall in love) she becomes remorseful and horrified at the Oedipeal situation she finds herself in when we get to the second act. Can I say she is an evil sex kitten with a heart? Arsace can’t bring himself to kill her when he reveals that he is her son. There must of been something redeemable about her… I need to keep taking myself thru this libretto a bit more, as well as Rossini’s musicalization to figure it out.
Today I took myself thru this interesting recitative between Arsace and Semiramide “Mitrane, e che rechi?” right before duet No. 8; I read it first at the piano and saw what seemed to be quirky almost awkward sudden changes in harmony, but within a framework of very sparse notes (“la più bella speranza lusingava il mio cor, ma…). But in reading the translation, Rossini perfectly emulates the misunderstanding as well as word ques that erroneosly “get lost in translation” between the two characters; she has just received the missive from the oracle saying that all will be righted in the kingdom when Arsace marries (she assumes she is the bride alluded by the oracle); Arsace has come to ask for Azema’s hand in marriage and misunderstands that the Queen is open to agreeing to this marriage. I need to add that both Semiramide and Arsace each have a letter reading scene with underneath orchestral tremolos. Rossini used every device in the book to wring out every ounce of drama, to what I consider thrilling results.
Arsace’s statements and responses need to be sung with a lot of intention, as well as with a touche of naivete. He is truly an honest young man, and very much in earnest, but is a little clueless and doesn’t have an instinct for subterfuge. Some of the lines are filled with pride, then suddenly changes to hope, anxiety, and love; he opens his heart to Semiramide in this scene, and she mistakes his intentions…this section needs to come off very natural. Since its accompanied by the orchestra, it is super rigorous at the same time…so, not really easy to pull off. This recit section has lots of interesting stuff. It of course preludes one of the better known duets from the opera. I already started scribbling the different attitudes and emotional content of Arsace’s lines in this section. Actually, Rossini in his harmonies tells me what Arsace is feeling; its all there on the page.
Arsace – You summoned me, Queen, and I have hastened to come. How I have yearned for this sweet moment! The finest of hopes enticed my heart. But…
Semiramide – (sweetly) Why do you stop?
Arsace – I am told that, generous as you are, you have at last granted Assyria its wish, that today you will name a successor…
Semiramide – Go on.
Arsace – Assur, the haughty man, thinks he will be king, Azema’s hand will earn him a throne. I would die for you, but I will not serve him.
Semiramide – He shall not have Azema.
Arsace – (joyfully) He won’t?
Semiramide – I am aware of his plans.
Arsace – Ah! Then you know him?
Semiramide – And I will punish him.
Arsace – (reticently) If only you knew this well also Arsace’s heart!
Semiramide – (tenderly) I know that it is faithful and virtuous.
Arsace – But I am only a warrior…
Semiramide – And a warrior, for this empire, is the greatest support… and you… are already… (to herself) Patience, my heart.
(Libretto from the recording conducted by Alberto Zedda, edited by Dynamic CD’s)