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Today we’re listening to…
“Bel raggio lusingier,” a soprano aria from Act I of the Italian opera Semiramide by Gioachino Rossini. Joan Sutherland is singing here, and it’s the quintessence of bel canto. Sutherland never fails to deliver what is required by Rossini. Her ability to move her voice with the speed and agility Rossini demanded is unsurpassed, and her entire voice is big and brilliant. I promise you, this aria is incredibly difficult to sing, but she makes it sound effortless. There is so much to say about her singing and her life, so in the coming weeks, as we did with Freni, we will be doing a Sutherland week!
🎧 Listen here (6 minute listen):
The story for the opera is taken from the tragedy, Semiramis, by Voltaire (1748).
Before the curtain rises: Semiramide (Semiramis) has been Queen of Babylon for fifteen years. Along with her lover Assur, she murdered her husband, King Nino, and their young son Ninia (heir to the throne) has disappeared.
Fifteen years later, as the opera opens, she is about to announce her successor’s name. While there are other obvious candidates for the throne, Semiramide falls for Arsace, a military leader who is summoned back to Babylon.
In this Act I aria, Semiramide expresses joy that Arsace has returned to her side. Although she does not realize he is in love with another and that he is actually her son(!), she is in love with him.
There was a split between the supporters of Joan Sutherland and Maria Callas in the 50s and 60s. While I admire and love both, I tend to gravitate towards those singers with more dramatic instincts than those that sing every note with perfect technique. I heard someone say once that “Callas transformed opera. But Sutherland, was the voice.”
If you are interested in the full opera, I would recommend this recording with Marilyn Horne. I highly recommend the overture!
Semiramide premiered in Venice on February 3, 1823. Rossini was an opera-writing machine. Between 1812 and 1822, Rossini wrote 30 operas, the majority of his lifetime output.
What did you think? Would love to hear you thoughts in the comments!
Thank you for listening,