A Marvelous Concert Version of Rossini’s Seldom-Performed Semiramide

FranceFrance Rossini, Semiramide: Orchestre National Bordeaux-Aquitaine, Choeur de l’Opéra National de Bordeaux, Paolo Olmi (conductor), L’Auditorium de Bordeaux, 12.3.2016 (JMI)

Concert version:
Semiramide: Leah Crocetto
Arsace: Elisabeth DeShong
Assur: Mirco Palazzi
Idreno: Maxim Mironov
Oroe: Ziyan Afteh
Azema: Irene Candelier
Mitrane:Jeremy Duffau

Semiramide is one of Gioacchino Rossini’s most demanding operas. It requires a truly exceptional trio (soprano, mezzo-soprano and bass-baritone) and, I should add, a tenor who has to master two difficult arias. As a result, it’s an opera that appears and disappears depending on the presence of great singers willing to confront the score. In the 1970s and ‘80s, it was a fairly common opera in the most important houses, when sopranos like Joan Sutherland and Montserrat Caballé and mezzo-sopranos such as Lucia Valentini Terrani and Marilyn Horne were in their prime. I remember too a very successful performance in the early 1990s at the Metropolitan with an all-American cast: June Anderson, Marilyn Horne, Samuel Ramey and Rockwell Blake. After that, Semiramide became a rarity, and revivals have been, almost invariably, in concert form. France is where the opera has been staged most frequently in recent years, usually in concert form, in cities like Marseille, Lyon, Paris, Montpellier, Nice and now Bordeaux.

With this background, it’s only natural that Semiramide has raised expectations in Bordeaux. As is common here, the main female parts were sung by two young Americans, and they both enjoyed a well-deserved success. To this I would add a musical version announced as complete, although it was not totally so, and remarkable conducting.

I was not expecting much from Paolo Olmi, who did not impress me on previous occasions, albeit in a very different repertoire. The truth is that I found his conducting a very pleasant surprise. It was clear that he had prepared thoroughly, and he offered a careful reading of the score, always supporting the singers. The only problems were an excess of orchestral volume on more than one occasion, and some missing lightness in the sound. Both the orchestra and the chorus gave remarkable performances.

Leah Crocetto, who sang Semiramide, is one of those discoveries that Thierry Fouquet, director of Bordeaux Opera, has made in recent years. She was brilliant and well-suited to the part: a lyric-spinto soprano, powerful, easy and valiant at the top, with good agilities and an attractive timbre. She is headed for an important career; for me, she ranks with Angela Meade, the other important young American soprano of recent years. Few sopranos can now be compared with her in the character of Semiramide. Jessica Pratt may be more in the bel canto tradition, but Leah Crocetto is better suited to the demands of Semiramide.

The other big success of the night (even more than Leah Crocetto) was mezzo soprano Elisabeth DeShong, who was an excellent Arsace. Her only handicap is that she seems to possess two different voices: an attractive middle range, easy at the top, while her low notes have a different color and give the impression that she is pushing the sound, as if she were imitating Marilyn Horne. Her coloratura is perfectly in order. In short, she was a great interpreter of Arsace.

Mirco Palazzi as Assur was also impressive, singing with elegance and an attractive timbre, though his voice is, for my taste, somewhat short in amplitude for these evil characters. His performance was remarkable, but one step below his two American colleagues. His great scene of Act II was resolved better than I anticipated.

Russian tenor Maxim Mironov gave life to Idreno. This is a thankless and very demanding role, and he showed some tightness at the top.

Bass Afteh Ziyan was a sonorous Oroe, while Irene Candelier left a good impression in the brief part of Azema.

José M. Irurzun




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