Eleven days from now Semiramide returns to the Met (not without controversy) for the first time in 25 years. To mark that revival as well as the 250th anniversary of Rossini’s death, “Trove Thursday” presents the most complete performance of the opera to take place since the 1820s: an all-American star-studded gala produced at Carnegie Hall by Matthew Epstein in 1983 with June Anderson, Marilyn Horne, Samuel Ramey and Douglas Ahlstedt with Henry Lewis conducting. 

Semiramide was the second of Rossini series that Epstein curated that season; the first, La Donna del Lago with Frederica von Stade, Horne, Rockwell Blake and Dano Raffanti, was offered on “Trove Thursday” several years ago.

Anyone who might have already heard this Semiramide should take another listen as this recording presents it in the finest sound quality I’ve heard. It helpfully begins with the announcement (surely a surprise to very few) that Montserrat Caballé would not be appearing that evening in the title role.

I was told was that everyone else had been rehearsing for at least a week for the performance on a Monday evening but Caballê didn’t show up until the Friday before and then promptly pulled out the next day. Lewis was also a substitute, having taken over for Jesús López-Cobos, who had withdrawn about a week earlier.

Although Anderson was more than six years away from her Met debut, she had had major successes at New York City Opera and elsewhere and her days of covering were behind her. But she had just sung Semiramide in Rome opposite Lucia Valentini-Terrani and knew—given Caballés track record—there was probably a better than good chance she’d be showing off her Babylonian queen to Carnegie audiences.

It proved to be a grand local success in a role she would assume nearly eight years later (again with Horne and Ramey) at the Met and which would be televised and released on home video in the production about to be revived.

If like me you “learned” the opera on the great if truncated London recording Horne made with Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge, you were used to the male performers sounding like distant also-rans compared to those two great ladies. But Ramey (this performance was a year before his Met debut in Rinaldo) and a new generation of Rossini tenors changed all that.

Among the important features of this performance which runs nearly four hours was the inclusion of both of Idreno’s arias and the restoration of some of Assur’s music including a cabaletta which no one had heard since the 18th century.

A bit of trivia: each of the three Horne-Rossini operas in the Carnegie series lost its originally announced European leading lady who was then replaced by an American. Agnes Baltsa was succeeded by von Stade in Lago; then Anderson for Caballé and for the final opera Lella Cuberli took over from Ileana Cotrubas as Amenaide in Tancredi.

Rossini: Semiramide

Carnegie Hall
10 January 1983
In-house recording

Semiramide: June Anderson
Arsace: Marilyn Horne
Azema: Stephanie Friede
Assur: Samuel Ramey
Idreno: Douglas Ahlstedt
Oroe: Eric Halfvarson
Mitrane: Walter MacNeil
L’ombra di Nino: Edward Crafts

American Symphony Orchestra
Orpheon Chorale

Conductor: Henry Lewis

Semiramide can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on its audio player and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

Several more great Rossini works will appear on “Trove Thursday” during the remainder of 2018. In addition to the Semiramide and Donna del Lago, these performances also remain available for listening or downloading.

L’Italiana in Algeri with Teresa Berganza from the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires 1970, Torvaldo e Dorliska with Cuberli, Valentini-Terrani, Pietro Bottazzo, Siegmund Nimsgern and Enzo Dara conducted by Alberto Zedda, and La Cenerentola with Claudio Abbado leading a champagne La Scala cast headed by Valentini-Terrani, Luigi Alva, Dara and Paolo Montarsolo.

“Trove Thursday” podcasts since the series began in September 2015 remain available from iTunes for free, or via any RSS reader.