Melodramma tragico in two acts

Composer Gioacchino Rossini · Libretto by Gaetano Rossi after "Sémiramis" by Voltaire
In Italian with English and German surtitles | New Production

Sunday, 26. February 2017
05:00 pm


1 Interval between 1. Akt and 2. Akt (est. 06:55 pm - 07:25 pm )

Premiere at 12. February 2017

  • Koproduktion mit dem Royal Opera House Covent Garden, London

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Solist II
Joshua Owen Mills
Solist III
Milan Siljanov
Solist IV
Selene Zanetti
Solist V
Johannes Kammler
Solist VI
Alyona Abramowa
Solist VIII
Paula Iancic
Solist IX
Niamh O’Sullivan
Solist X
Anna El-Khashem
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Queen Semiramide is haunted by the ghosts of her past. Together with her lover Assur, she once murdered her husband King Nino; a deed which ever since has weighed heavily upon her. With her marriage to Arsace, she hopes her soul will at last find solace. Her love, however, is misplaced. Arsace not only loves another, he is also, as is later revealed, the son Semiramide and Nino believed to be dead. He is faced with a decision: should he avenge the death of his father – and thus become his mother's killer? 

Gioachino Rossini's final opera seria, one of his most-performed works in the 19th century, shows his protagonists in their desperate attempts to escape the remorseless grasp of fate, to maintain control over the consequences of their own actions and to free themselves from the inscrutable entanglement of power, violence and passion.


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The story

Past History
A decade and a half previously, Semiramide, the Queen of Babylon, poisoned her husband, King Nino, with the help of her former lover, Assur. Semiramide has reigned alone in Babylon since that time. In the commotion caused by the assassination Ninia, the son of Semiramide and Nino, disappeared and has not been seen since.

Act One

In the Temple of Baal, Oroe, the high priest, falls into a state of ecstasy while praying. The deity informs him that the moment for revenge and justice is nigh. The Babylonians as well as rulers and people from other countries, among them the Indian Prince Idreno and his retinue, stream into the temple: they all expect that Semiramide will finally announce the successor to the throne that day. Assur is convinced that she will name him as king because of his loyalty over many years. Semiramide tries to postpone making the decision as she is awaiting the arrival of the young commander, Arsace, whom she has ordered to come to Babylon as she plans to make him king. The crowd, however, urges her to make a quick decision. Just as she is on the point of announcing the name of the future king, a bright flash of lightning strikes and extinguishes the sacred flame on the altar. Everyone sees this as a sign that disaster will befall Babylon.

Arsace arrives in Babylon. He is longing to see Princess Azema, whom he has loved ever since he saved her life. Oroe reveals to Arsace how King Nino fell victim to betrayal.

In a fierce verbal exchange, Arsace and Assur realise that they are both rivals for Azema’s hand. They accuse each other of actually only aspiring to become king. There is also a third person wooing Azema: the Indian Prince Idreno. Azema is, however, in love with Arsace.

Semiramide is happy as she awaits the arrival of Arsace, with whom she is secretly in love. She also hopes that he will be able to put an end to the emotional turmoil that has troubled her for a long time. She considers herself supported in this hope by the words of an oracle according to which she will find peace on Arsace’s return. Semiramide wants to keep her feelings for Arsace secret for the time being. Arsace goes into raptures about his love for Azema without, however, mentioning her name. Semiramide mistakes these expressions of passion as being meant for herself.

Semiramide holds audience in the throne room not far from the tomb of King Nino. To general surprise, she announces that she has chosen Arsace to be king and that he will also become her husband. She grants Idreno Azema’s hand in marriage. When Semiramide orders Oroe to marry her to Arsace she is again interrupted by thunder and lightning. The tomb opens, to everyone’s horror Nino’s ghost emerges. He prophesies that Arsace will reign, before that, however, an old crime must be expiated and a sacrifice offered. Arsace swears to the ghost that he will follow his instructions and asks him whom he should kill, but the ghost disappears without saying another word.

Act Two
Semiramide and Assur engage in mutual recrimination over the crime of Nino’s death. The queen also suspects that Assur murdered her son, Ninia. Assur demands that Semiramide should keep her promise to make him king. She, on the other hand, stays firm in her intention to marry Arsace. Assur swears revenge.

Oroe discloses to Arsace his true identity: Arsace is, in fact, Ninia, the son of Semiramide and Nino. Oroe has also gathered from a letter written by Nino as he lay dying that the latter was murdered on Semiramide’s orders. Arsace (in fact, therefore, Ninia) is shocked. Oroe gives him the sword that once belonged to Nino in order that he can be revenged.

Idreno learns from Azema that she is still in love with Arsace. He reminds her that Semiramide has given him her hand in marriage and Azema decides to obey the queen. Idreno promises that they will be happy together.

Arsace reveals to Semiramide that he is the son she assumed was dead. She expects that he will kill her as revenge for his father’s murder, but Arsace forgives his mother. He hurries to Nino’s tomb to kill Assur.

At the tomb, Assur has a frightening vision: he imagines he is at the mercy of a terrifying ghost who is threatening to destroy him. When the figure has disappeared, Assur enters the tomb. Inside he comes across Arsace in the company of Oroe. Oroe commands Arsace to strike Assur with the sword but in the darkness of the tomb he fails to stab Assur but kills his mother, who has followed her son. Semiramide dies. Assur is arrested on Oroe’s orders. Oroe prevents Arsace from taking his own life in his despair. Meanwhile the people celebrate and rejoice in the new King of Babylon.

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Joshua Owen Mills, born in Neath, Wales, studied voice at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

He is the winner of various competitions and awards, the Guildhall Gold Medal Competition, the Dunraven Young Welsh Singer of the Year Competition, and the National Mozart Singing Competition. He became a Glyndebourne Jerwood Young Artist at the Glyndebourne Opera Festival, where he sang Belfiore (La finta giardiniera), ein Tierhändler (Der Rosenkavalier) and Gastone (La traviata). In 2013 he performed the roles of Belmonte (Die Entführung aus dem Serail) and Tamino (Die Zauberflöte) at the Garsington Opera. His appearances on the concert stage have included concerts with the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. Since the 2015/16 season Joshua Owen Mills is a member of the Bayerische Staatsoper's Opera Studio.

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