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Rossini’s Semiramide has flickered in and out of the public eye since its premiere in 1823 – it really depends on who is around to sing it. Only the overture and the soprano ariaBel ragio lusinghier’ were regularly performed, the latter often as a canary showpiece. So in the 20th century it became known as a vehicle for Joan Sutherland, then Montserrat Caballé and June Anderson, all three partnered at times by the fearsome Marilyn Horne; more recently, Joyce DiDonato and Angela Meade have wreaked enjoyable Babylonian bedlam in the Hanging Gardens.

A concert performance at the Proms in 2016 presented the Semiramide of Albina Shagimuratova under the baton of Mark Elder, and although a huge success, using the vast Royal Albert Hall perhaps tended to reinforce the popular misconception that the opera is a large scaled and old-fashioned warhorse. This new recording, using generally the same forces as the concert, reveals Elder’s approach to Semiramide to be one of translucence and buoyancy, with clear textures and a refreshing respect for Rossini’s inventive orchestration, which exhibits far more than mere support for his soloists. Shagimuratova reveals a bright and mettlesome soprano, undaunted by the role’s demands, and firmly outlines Semiramide’s emotional decline and fall. Daniela Barcellona similarly brings accuracy and verve to the role of Arsace, her voice lithe and fleet. Barry Banks makes the most of Idreno, an excruciatingly difficult tenor role, and bass Mirco Palazzi adds to the fireworks as Assur, relishing the opportunity of the mad scene one might expect to be given to a soprano.

FRANCIS MUZZU Read the full review on Agora Classica

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