Gioachino Rossini is an Italian opera composer who does not get enough respect. He is famous for his comic operas, especially “Il Barbiere di Siviglia,” which the Met stages almost every season. It is one of the best comedies in opera, so, of course, the opera-going public loves it. But in his own time, in the Bel Canto period of the first half of the 19th century, Rossini became much more famous for his serious operas and they were frequently staged.
This season the Met has done us all a favor by staging one of those serious operas, “Semiramide.” The overture, which is wonderful, sounds like the overture to a comic opera, but things get more serious once the curtain goes up. Maurizio Benini, a conductor famous for his performances of the Rossini operas, conducted this score with an emphasis on its rhythmic intensity and the subtlety of its orchestration.
John Copley’s production is about twenty years old now, but it has weathered those years well. He emphasizes the formality of the ancient art of Babylon, where the opera is set, with its wonderful sculptures and architectural friezes. John Froelich’s lighting tried to create a somber and tragic atmosphere throughout the two acts. The opera is based on a famous tragedy by Voltaire.
The singers were captivating as well. Angela Meade sang the title role with real authority and bel canto accuracy. Her large, lovely voice made Semiramide the star of the show, as well she should be. The mezzo-soprano Sarah Mesko sang the trouser role of Arsace with real passion and her low notes made a fine contrast with Angela Meade’s many high notes.
The basso new comer Ryan Speedo Green, a wonderful name, made the most of his character, Oroe and emphasized his cunning with vocal accuracy and real bel canto style. Javier Camarana’s singing of the role of the Indian Prince Idreno was consistently impressive. He is a rare bird, a real coloratura tenor and he had all the vocal agility and very high notes needed for this difficult role. Ildar Adrazakov’s portrayal of Prince Assur succeeded as well, thanks to his vocal flexibility.
Rossini wrote much choral music for this work and the Met’s chorus, under its director Donald Palumbo, was certainly up to the challenge. Thanks to Benini, Palumbo and this wonderful cast. The Met gave us a rare opportunity to experience one of Rossini’s serious operas, thereby earning him more respect.