Scott and I saw *Semiramide* at the Met on 3/10/18. Scott is one of my best friends from Wisconsin - - he’s an even bigger opera queen than I (hard to imagine, I know) and yet he had never been to the Met! He’d been to New York many times, but never during the Met season. We’d been talking about me “picking his cherry” (if you will) since I moved here in 2002, so it was HIGH TIME. He was in Philadelphia for a conference and decided to extend his trip a few days to visit us, and finally go to the Met.
The opera he chose to see was *Semiramide,* a Rossini opera. He figured he’d never get another chance to see it, and it would be fun. I had seen it on TV back in 1990, with June Anderson, Marilyn Horne, Stanford Olsen, and Sam Ramey in the leads. This was the same wonderfully static production, and they brought together the current crop of Rossini stars, so I was excited to see it, too.
The story is pretty dippy. It takes place in ancient Babylon. Semiramide (soprano) is the queen, she and Assur (bass) had murdered her husband about fifteen years before, and she’s about to announce who’s going to be the new king. Of course Assur wants that job, since he had proved his usefulness by killing the king. Idreno (tenor) also wants the job, but she chooses Arsace (mezzo soprano in drag), a cute young guy she’s had her eye on for a while. He’s excited at the prospect of being king, but isn’t so wild that he has to MARRY her, since he has a girlfriend of his own. He’s saved from this indignity in the second act when he finds out (cue dramatic music) that Semiramide is his MOTHER! Eeek! As you can imagine, Semiramide isn’t too wild to hear that news either. Thankfully they find out before the wedding.
This was a resolutely old fashioned production, what we call a real Park and Bark show. The singers walk onstage, plant their feet, face forward, and sing. You don’t see this style very often, and it’s a nice change. Scott and I were discussing some similarities between this opera and Verdi’s *Nabucco* - - they have a similar Old Testament setting and a similar pageant-like vibe, but Verdi makes it so much more exciting. We decided that *Semiramide* is posh, but *Nabucco* has pash! We’ll revisit these terms again in a moment, in a different context.
The show started with a rousing overture, a Rossini specialty. My friend Michael had told me that I would recognize the overture, but clearly he spends more time listening to WQXR than I do. The conductor was Maurizio Benini, who had a deep feeling for the style. Rossini is all about tempo, drama, and suppleness, and he and the Met Orchestra nailed it.
I’ll do my usual routine of discussing the singers in ascending order of how I liked them.
Ildar Abdrazakov was Assur. He’s a bass, which unfortunately means a lot of the rapid notes just plain aren’t so easy to hear, but I could tell he was singing them right! He spent a lot of the show with his shirt off, which was JUST FINE.
Angela Meade was Semiramide. She’s a young singer that the Met has been building up for the last few seasons - - I heard her in the 50th anniversary gala last spring and was knocked out by her voice. Her voice is big and gorgeous and she has what you want in this repertoire: the rapid passages are cleanly sung, the slower passages are smooth and lustrous, and everything is ripe and expressive. However, she’s not a very interesting singer. The singing is beautiful and, in a sense, perfect, but it doesn’t really grab you. She had a dramatic scene with the bass at the start of the second act and her singing was much more incisive and committed. I wish she sang that way more often. She needs less posh and more pash!
Javier Camarena was Idreno. I heard him at the 50th anniversary gala, too, he did the aria from *Daughter of the Regiment* with the nine high Cs. He blew me away then, and he really impressed me in this. Beautiful singing, thrilling high notes, he’s a very exciting singer.
Elizabeth DeShong was Arsace, and the best thing up there. What a fantastic singer. Her voice is even from top to bottom, and this being Rossini, she often went from top to bottom, lots of two-octave scales, which really show off the voice. All of her singing was injected with drama and purpose. She’s a singer to watch, I’ll be sure to follow her a little more closely. Plus she looked cute in her plumed helmet - - this is a look that was popularized by Marilyn Horne thirty years ago. It works for both of them, it makes them look like they're 5' 4".
How about one last picture of Scott?