- Semiramide(190 mins)(concert performance; sung in Italian)
About This Event
Sir Mark Elder conducts Rossini’s operatic tragedy, which pushes singers to the limits of expression in recounting the story of Semiramide, Queen of Babylon, and her entrapment in a web of incest and revenge at the behest of her long-lost son.
Vocal athleticism, vivid storytelling and Classical poise combine in Rossini’s rarely heard opera, performed in concert.
There will be one interval
Fifteen years have passed since Semiramide, Queen of Babylon, and her erstwhile lover Prince Assur murdered her husband King Nino and plotted to kill her child Ninia, the future king. Unbeknown to them, the child survived. Named Arsace by his foster-father, he is now a gifted young commander on the country’s Caucasian border. Dazzled by Arsace’s exploits, the queen has summoned him back to court, though it is Arsace’s love for the Babylonian Princess Azema, rather than the queen’s summons, that has caused his return.
Crowds await the naming of a male successor to the throne which Semiramide has occupied since the late king’s death; Oroe, High Priest of the Magi, stands before the altar awaiting a sign. Also within the sanctuary are Prince Assur and Idreno, King of Indus, aspirants to the throne and to the hand of Princess Azema. Semiramide arrives in state. Privately troubled by Arsace’s absence, she appears reluctant to name the new king. As she approaches the altar a blinding flash extinguishes the sacred flame. Unexpiated crimes, Oroe explains, have angered the gods.
Arsace appears in the temple precinct carrying a casket given to him on the deathbed of the man he believed to be his father. His thoughts are all of Princess Azema, whose life he saved when he rescued her from brigands. The casket, Oroe reveals, contains mementoes of King Nino and a scroll which tells the truth about his murder.
Assur upbraids Arsace for deserting his command and having the temerity to speak of his love for Princess Azema. Arsace protests that, unlike Assur, it is not the throne he seeks but Azema’s heart. Assur warns Arsace that he will destroy him.
Azema is overjoyed by news of Arsace’s return, as is Idreno by Azema’s confession that she loathes Assur. Believing Assur to be his only rival, Idreno makes a fresh declaration of love to Azema.
Semiramide’s mood is lightened by a group of young girls and cithara (lyre) players celebrating Arsace’s return. She reflects on the enchantment a single ray of hope can bring after so much suffering. A pronouncement from the oracle gives further hope of new beginnings and future happiness.
Assur’s threats are reported to the queen by Arsace. Swearing his own allegiance to the queen, Arsace tells of a new love that burns within him. Mistaking this as a declaration of love for her, Semiramide echoes the young man’s joyful mood.
After demanding an oath of loyalty from the people of Babylon, Semiramide announces that Arsace is to be her consort and the nation’s king. Princess Azema will be given in marriage to Idreno. Arsace is appalled, Assur furious. As the High Priest moves to bless the marriage, the ghost of King Nino rises from the tomb. He decrees that the new king avenge his death with the blood of his murderers. The queen begs to join Nino in his tomb as the people speculate about the identity of the regicides.
Semiramide reminds Assur of his crime and threatens to expose him. In a mood of mutual recrimination, they quarrel over past events that now threaten to overshadow them.
The High Priest reveals to Arsace that he is Nino’s son (to whom the Princess Azema was once promised) and rightful heir. Arsace accepts his role as his father’s avenger. He will kill Assur but prays that his father’s spirit might spare his mother.
Idreno renews his suit to the grieving Azema. Tracked down by Semiramide, Arsace unfurls the scroll that reveals his own identity and Semiramide’s role in his father’s murder. Semiramide begs to be killed but Arsace’s response is generous. However hateful she is in the sight of the gods, she is his mother. Mother and son express their love for one another but Arsace remains duty bound to enact his father’s wish and Semiramide knows that blood will be shed.
Assur learns that his crimes have been revealed to the people. He plans to murder Arsace in the mausoleum but in a nightmare vision imagines his way is being blocked by the iron hand of the murdered Nino. Half-crazed and fearing he is about to die, he begs for mercy. Roused by his henchmen, he shakes off his delirium and rededicates himself to his murderous task. The Captain of the Guard orders the mausoleum to be surrounded.
Arsace descends into the vault with Oroe and the Magi in close attendance. Semiramide also makes her descent, determined to protect her son. As she prays to her late husband’s tomb, Arsace and Assur circle one another in the dark. On Oroe’s instruction, Arsace strikes at Assur but Semiramide steps between them and receives the fatal blow. As Assur is arrested, Oroe prevents Arsace from taking his own life. Outside the people proclaim Arsace king.
Synopsis © Richard Osborne