Opera Classics - Meyerbeer: Semiramide / Bonynge, Riedel

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Recordings of Meyerbeer’s operas are regrettably few, which makes this Naxos release all the more valuable. Although better known for his French grand operas, especially Les Huguenots (1836), Le prophéte (1849), and L’Africaine (1865), early in his career Meyerbeer composed two operas in German and later between 1815 and 1824 six Italian operas in a style imitative of Rossini. It was during this Italian period that Yaakor Liebmann Beer began calling himself Giacomo Meyerbeer.

Semiramide, composed in 1819, was the second of his Italian operatic compositions. Four additional Italian operas followed before his move to Paris and the successful Robert le diable. It is surprising that Meyerbeer’s Italian operas haven’t been better represented in the bel canto revival of the last half century. Opera Rara recorded two of them complete (Il crociato in Egitto and Margherita d’Anjou) and highlights from L’esule di Granata (all studio recorded). A few of Meyerbeer’s Italian operas recorded in performance and an aria here and there occasionally find their way onto disc.

Semiramide, as evidenced by this Naxos, is definitely closer in style to Rossini than to Meyerbeer’s French grand operas. There is lots of ornamentation, recitative secchi, and even the rhythmic crescendo. The arias are tuneful and the ensembles are frequently exciting. Rossini’s Semiramide owes some creative debt to Meyerbeer’s earlier creation in structure, acknowledged by correspondence between Rossini’s librettist Gaetano Rossi and Meyerbeer.

Meyerbeer’s Semiramide was fairly successful, although it garnered more favorable press from German critics than Italians. Meyerbeer, with Rossi, made some changes to the score for performances a year later, expanding the title to Semiramide riconosciuto; however, the altered score has been lost, as has Meyerbeer’s autographed score of the original, a victim of WW II bombing. The score used for the performances captured on this recording is from a “contemporary manuscript copy” and “incorporates a number of cuts and revisions made to suit the vocal talents of the cast involved.” Quotes are from the booklet.

The plot has little to do with the events in Rossini’s opera. The libretto Meyerbeer used is a convoluted hodge-podge of disguises, amorous intrigues and betrayals, plots and counterplots, vengeance, a duel, and general rejoicing. The booklet contains a synopsis tied to tracking numbers, but a note on the back tray liner tells us that a libretto can be obtained from www.naxos.com/libretti/semiramide.htm. However, it is only in Italian. Good luck!

Enjoy this album for the two hours of bel canto singing it provides. The performance is a good one, the audience is not intrusive, and the recorded sound and balances are excellent. I’m glad Bonynge is still bringing us these interesting rarities.

FANFARE: David L. Kirk

Product Description:

  • Release Date: June 20, 2006

  • UPC: 730099620529

  • Catalog Number: 8660205-06

  • Label: Naxos

  • Number of Discs: 2

  • Composer: Giacomo Meyerbeer

  • Conductor: Richard Bonynge

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Altensteig Rossini Choir, Württemberg Philharmonie Reutlingen

  • Performer: Deborah Riedel, Filippo Adami, Fiona Janes, Leonardo Silva, Marco Bellei, Olga Peretyatko, Wojciech Adalbert Gierlach