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ROSSINI: Semiramide (complete opera) – Soloists/Vienna Concert Choir & Radio SO/ Panni – Nightingale Classics (3 CDs)

Gruberova is well worth hearing, even if the whole does not equal the sum of its parts.

ROSSINI: Semiramide (complete opera) – Edita Gruberova (Semiramide)/ Bernadette Manca Di Nissa (Arsace)/ Helene Le Corre (Azema)/ Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (Assur)/ Juan Diego Florez (Idreno)/ Julian Konstantinov (Oroe)/ Vienna Concert Choir/ Vienna Radio SO/ Marcello Panni – Nightingale Classics NC207013 (3 CDs), 68:46, 64:43, 73:54 ***1/2:

Though Semiramide, based on Voltaire’s tragedy Semiramis, was to be Rossini’s last Italian opera, in fact it represents a return to much of the vocal enthusiasms found in the operas of his youth. After this work he bolted from Italy to Paris, and never really was able to duplicate the greatness of this piece, adorned with scenery in true Baroque style, full choruses and expansive orchestral writing for an equally expansive orchestra. It has always maintained its popularity as one of the best operas in the repertory, and there have been many fine recordings, old and new.

This one, a 1998 recording, is fine in many ways. I am especially partial to the Idreno of Juan Diego Florez, who was really singing well—and especially Rossini—at that time, and his artistry found its way onto other Rossini issues too. The opera lives or dies on its heroine, and though Gruberova was well over 22 years into her career, the strength and dramatic impulses that her voice is known are certainly present in this performance.

But overall the piece is given a rather sluggish, perhaps slightly old-fashioned rendition that really can’t compare to the 1994 Ion Marin recording on DGG with a then-stellar Cheryl Studer (where on earth did she get to?) and other all-stars, with tempos lively and apt, and sound that beats what we have here hands down.

So this is recommended, especially for Gruberova (and Nightingale Recordings has released a lot of her operas) with the caveat that there are better ones available.

—Steven Ritter

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