Tag Archives: Semiramide

Semiramide Challenge 2017 Day #4, recitative before “Serbami ognor”, interesting…

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Semiramide Challenge 2017 Day #4, recitative before “Serbami ognor”, interesting…

Semiramide_Event

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.

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Amazing cat suit outfit for Semiramide

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)

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Semiramide 30 day Challenge Day 3 Arsace Assur duet “Bella imago…”

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Semiramide_antiquescore

I have not sung many opera scenes with true basses.  The last I did that comes to memory is the duet between Laura and Alvise in Ponchielli’s La Gioconda.  There are more common encounters in baroque opera between these two voice types, as well as also in a couple of Bach cantatas that I have sung.  There are occasions in which the mezzo interacts with the bass in recitative passages, but not often in large presentational duet like the one in Semiramide.

The scene with Arsace and Assur in Act I of Semiramide begins with Arsace’s recit  “…e questo Assur chi’io già detesto”.  It would be a mistake to sum this scene as a big testosterone sable rattling scene. Its divided in four sections sections, and contains  bridge section to mirror the power struggle and conflict (with what I call “emotional close ups”) between the two characters: a young dashing somewhat lovelorn general and a mature general that has been working many years to attain absolute power in ancient Babylon.

American bass Samuel Ramey as Assur in Rossini’s Semiramide

No. 5 Scena and duetto Arsace and Assur

Recitative “…e questo Assur chio gia detesto” “E dunque vero? audace”

Maestoso allegretto giusto: “Bella imago degli Dei”

Andante: “D’un tenero amore”

Allegro vivace: “Io tremar?”

A tempo:  “Va superbo, in quella Reggia”

A cut version could last 7 plus minutes. The uncut performance of the duet from the 80’s with Horne and Ramey  in London clocked in at 11’30, its truly a superb version:

Arsace Assur Duet from Semiramide with Marilyn Horne and Samuel Ramey live performance London

The recit exposes the power struggle and rivalry between the two characters; Arsace ends his statement with scale with possible cadenza and begins the A section (Maestoso allegreto giusto) which then returns at the A tempo at the end of the scena. The Decca London 1965 recording cuts out the  Andante section, which gives a great platform to show almost a soft side for Assur, wonderful expressive singing for Arsace, as well as beautiful cadenza in which both characters sing together, its a great moment. The “io tremar” of the Allegro vivace changes the mood in an aggressive way to bring us back to the A section, which in the uncut version repeats; its in this section that the ornaments are done.  Musically and dramatically the scena is a mini opera, except that the conflict remains to be resolved (with deadly force) later on in the opera.

Its a big chunk of music. In the Kalmus score its 18 pages for this scena…for now I will learn the return of the A section come scritto  (Horne re writes the passages leading to the end of this first exposition). It definitely needs a high note, as indicated by Rossini by the two fermatas. Not too worried getting this A section in my voice, as well as the gorgeous introspective cantilena section.  The grouping of the figures in the last part of the duet are super trumpet like in character. I sung thru it a couple of times today. Tomorrow I will work on the possible ornaments and cadenzas for the duet.  None are indicated in the Ricci cadenza book. After that, I’m moving on to the Act II cavatina of “In si barbara”. I’m skipping over the Act I finale quintet for now.

I will sing thru a big chunk of this role in a small concert on September 6th in NYC so I can try all this out for size. Still working on that August 19th deadline to learn every note and every word! Maybe not every ornament and cadenza, but yes to be able to read the score from top to bottom.

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Italian mezzo soprano Lucia Valentini-Terrani as Arsace in Rossini’s Semiramide