Review By Penguin Guide,January 2009
Who would have expected to see Bonynge conducting a new recording on Naxos? But he is directing a first recording of a recently rediscovered score, not a masterpiece by any means, but agreeable enough. Deborah Riedel is impressive in the title-role, in vocal partnership with Fiona James as Prince Scitalce, while her other suitor, Prince Ircano (Filippo Adami), sings ardently enough. The rest of the cast are sound, and Bonynge, as is his gift, keeps the pot on the boil throughout, and gets good support from the men’s chorus. A worthwhile novelty, competitively priced.
Review By Parsons,American Record Guide,February 2007
Semiramide may seem like an odd choice of a Meyerbeer opera to record. It is not at all typical of the better known operas (L 'Africaine, Les Huguenots, Le Prophete). Semiramide is a historical curiosity. The title makes us think of Rossini's 1824 opera, but Meyerbeer's 1819 opera is quite different-in libretto and music. Rossini's opera is based on Voltaire's retelling of the death of Semiramide. Meyerbeer's is based on the 1729 libretto written by Pietro Metastasio- a libretto that was set to music by at least 40 composers in the 1700s. Instead of her death, it relates Semiramide's triumph. Meyerbeer's was the last setting of Metastasio's libretto. It contained 30 arias along with appropriate recitatives. By Meyerbeer's time the libretto had been adapted: the arias cut down
Three principals dominate the story: Semiramide, a soprano, is disguised as a man, passing herself as her son, Nino. Scitalee is an Indian prince who was Semiramide's lover, but is now a suitor for Tamiri, princess of Bactria. This is a travesti role for a contralto, a woman playing a man. The Scythian prince, Ircano, is a tenor and is another suitor for Tamiri. Three secondary characters complicate the story. Mirto, an Egyptian prince (bass), is Semiramide's younger brother and also in love with Tamiri. Tamiri (soprano) is in love with Scitalce; Sibari (tenor), Semiramide's confidant, is secretly in love with Tamiri also. Suffice it to say, it all works out well in the opera's grand finale.
This is early Meyerbeer. He was in Italy studying classic Italian opera and in Semiramide he tries his hand at the style. He got it all right the first time, particularly the tunes. No wonder that Semiramide was chosen for production at the Bel Canto Opera Festival (Rossini Festival) at Bad Wildbad, Germany. This is grandiose Rossini mixed in with grandiose Meyerbeer with lots of pep and drive.
Who cares about the plot? It would seem that the Naxos cast does! They are not just sleepwalking through an obscure opera, but actually having a fine time. They sing up the proverbial storm. Semiramide sounds like a sketch for Verdi's Abigaille (Nabucco) with some of the vocal difficulties toned down. Riedel has no difficulty, her mezzo-based voice zipping through the music with plenty of venom, only rarely emitting a chicken-like squawk. She is quite regal. Riedel actually has a darker sound than mezzo Fiona Jones (Scitalce). Jones's lovely voice coloring is right for her to sing Semiramide, but she does not have the heft that Riedel brings to the role. Adami sounds truly Italian, with a plaintive whimper to his tenor in the coloratura. The much-desired Tamiri (Peretyatko) chirps brightly. It is a particular pleasure to hear Silva (Sibari) spitting out the text with brilliant clarity. Gierlach (Mirteo) does not have much to do other than belting out an occasional interjection and heading up the men's chorus. With Bonynge on the podium the musical values and style are high. The opera and the performance are a real discovery