Semiramide. La signora regale
Accademia degli Astrusi
La Stagione Armonica
Federico Ferri, conductor
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, 2014
Semiramide. La signora regale (“Semiramis. The royal lady”) is one of the most demanding album which have been released in the last years. Its purpose is to offer a survey of the fortune enjoyed by the character of the Assyrian queen in XVIII and XIX century operas by famous composers as Antonio Caldara, Nicola Porpora, Niccolò Jommelli, Giovanni Paisiello and, above all, Gioacchino Rossini and less renowned composers as Francesco Bianchi and Giovanni Battista Borghi. Every aria, written or not by a great personality, is a world premiere recording, with the exception of one of them (from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera), and another one receives its historical premiere (Rossini’s first version of Bel raggio lusinghier, edited by Philip Gossett).
Not every work can be considered first-rate, but the performance of mezzosoprano Anna Bonitatibus, of the chorus La Stagione Armonica and of the orchestra Accademia degli Astrusi, all conducted by Federico Ferri, makes every composition a great discovery and sometimes leads to some interesting surprises. It happens for example that, when you listen to Nasolini’s La morte di Semiramide, you find a stratified piece with familiar music which, after a while, you remember to have heard in Rossini’s La cambiale di matrimonio (1810). Nasoloni’s opera was performed for the first time in 1792, but was revived in 1815 (with Isabella Colbran in the title role) and the music of the aria of Fanni was added for the occasion. This was a habit of the time, when there were not impediments as copyright, and maybe it less surprising if you remember that the year after the revival of La morte di Semiramide Rossini used the same “stolen” music for the duet Figaro-Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia.
I would like to remember also the important philological researches which have made possible to revive operas which were considered lost. I am referring in particular to Semiramis by Manuel Garcia – yes, the same Garcia who was Rossini’s first Otello. As his daughters Maria Malibran and Pauline Viardot, he was not only a singer but also a composer and La signora regale is a rare occasion to listen to one of his works.
La signora regale shows therefore the evolution of the character of Semiramide to come to the most famous product of this interest, Rossini’s opera, and this historical progression corresponds to the deep exploration of Semiramide’s nature. What is really amazing in this musical analysis of the Assyrian queen is that it gives the rare chance to observe her from many angles: she rejoices in Rossini’s aria, is triumphant and majestic in Fermati! Il ciel minaccia (from Nasolini’s La morte di Semiramide) and colleric and revengeful in the Handel-Vinci pastiche Semiramide riconosciuta (aria: Fuggi dagl’occhi miei).
Anna Bonitatibus has the skill to embody all these feelings and many others and to take Semiramide to life. Her flexible voice is perfect to face this impervious repertoire without imperfections (these arias abound of difficult passages), but what is really stunning is her sensibility to the text. She never forgets to stress every word which is helpful to show some new aspect of Semiramide or – in a more specific way – to accentuate the character of the aria. The result is that her accents and expressions are original and delightful.
Add to this an excellent orchestra which play on original instruments, a fine choir, which provides also a solo tenor in one of the arias, and a conductor who can find the most subtle nuances and you will have a perfect recording. La signora regale is a remarkable album because it combines in the best way all the features (refined performances and intriguing material, musically and historically speaking) that are so important to realize a high quality product. I think and hope that we will continue to hear about this album for many time.