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Semiramide is an opera in two acts by Gioachino Rossini. The libretto by Gaetano Rossi is based on Voltaire's tragedy Semiramis, which in turn was based on the legend of Semiramis of Babylon.[1][2] The opera was first performed at La Fenice in Venice on February 3, 1823.

Semiramide was Rossini's final Italian opera, and took the form of a return to vocal traditions of his youth, a melodrama in which he "recreated the baroque tradition of decorative singing with unparalleled skill".[3] The ensemble-scenes (particularly the duos between Arsace and Semiramide) and choruses are of a high order, as is the orchestral writing, which makes full use of a large pit.

Rossini wrote the title role for his wife, Isabella Colbran. The work starts with a well-known overture, and throughout it calls for outstanding singers in the leading soprano and contralto roles. Although the overture is one of several of Rossini's to be widely recorded, the opera is only occasionally performed.


Composition history

After making his mark with a number of brilliant comic operas (most notably Il barbiere di Siviglia, La Cenerentola, Il Turco in Italia, and L'Italiana in Algieri), Rossini turned more and more to serious opera, and during the years 1816-1822 he wrote a considerable series of them, mostly for Naples. One reason for his new interest in the serious genre was his connection with the great dramatic soprano Isabella Colbran, who was first his mistress then his wife. She created the leading female role in Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra, Otello, Armida, Mosé in Egitto, and six other Rossini operas up to and including his final contribution to the genre, Semiramide. After this splendid work, one of his finest in the genre, Rossini turned his back on Italy and moved to Paris. His last operas were either original compositions in French or extensively reworked adaptations into French of earlier Italian operas.

The conditions under which opera was performed in Rossini's day gave little opportunity for calm reflection on the part of a composer. The contract for an opera might have been signed as little as a month before the work was to be put on stage. During that time the composer had to find a libretto, if he didn't already have one in hand, compose the music, supervise the rehearsals and direct the first three performances. The score to Semiramide was unusually long and elaborate, but Rossini boasted that this was the "only one of my Italian operas which I was able to do at my ease; my contract gave me forty days!" Actually, it took him only 33 days to complete the score.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, February 3, 1823
(Conductor: Antonio Cammerra)
Semiramide, Queen of Babylon, widow of King Nino soprano Isabella Colbran
Arsace, Commander of the Assyrian army contralto Rosa Mariani
Assur, a prince, descendant of Baal bass Filippo Galli
Idreno, an Indian king tenor John Sinclair
Oroe, high priest of the Magi bass Luciano Mariani
Azema, a princess, descendant of Baal soprano Matilde Spagna
Mitrane, Captain of the Guard tenor Gaetano Rambaldi
Nino's Ghost bass Natale Ciolli


Semiramide, with Assur, has secured the murder of her husband, King Nino. Her son, however, has escaped death and is now, as Arsace, a successful commander, his identity unknown to his mother. He is called back to Babylon, is in love with Azema and unwilling to support Assur in the latter's bid for the throne. Semiramide falls in love with him and declares him king and her consort, while Azema will marry Idreno. King Nino's ghost warns of crimes to be expiated and the high priest Oroe tells Arsace of the crime committed by his mother and Assur. Arsace, in the tomb of his father, meets King Nino's murderers, and seeking to strike Assur, kills Semiramide. He is finally declared King.


Because Rossini's overtures were sometimes shuffled from one opera to another, Rossini would have found the fact that most music lovers today identify his operas by their overture to be ironic. It is well known, for example, that The Barber of Seville, one of the greatest of comic operas, is performed all over the world with an overture that had already served Rossini twice for serious operas. Semiramide, though, has its own overture.

The overture was almost certainly composed last. Unlike many operatic overtures of the day, it borrowed musical ideas from the opera itself, thus making it unsuitable for use with another score. The range and balance of musical ideas, from the hushed, rhythmic opening through the Andantino for four horns (drawn from the opera itself) and the repetition with pizzicato countermelodies in the strings to the lively Allegro, make the overture to Semiramide one of Rossini's finest contributions to the genre and deservedly one of the most popular.

Noted arias and ensembles

  • "Eccomi alfine in Babilonia... Ah! quel giorno ognor rammento" - Arsace (Act 1)
  • "Bel raggio lusinghier... Dolce pensiero" - Semiramide (Act 1)
  • "Serbami ognor sì fido" - Semiramide & Arsace (Act 1)
  • "Giuri ognuno, a' sommi Dei" - Semiramide, Arsace, Idreno, Oroe & Assur (Act 1)
  • "In sì barbara sciagura" - Arsace (Act 2)
  • "La speranza più soave" - Idreno (Act 2)
  • "Ebben, a te... Giorno d'orrore... Madre, addio!" - Semiramide & Arsace (Act 2)
  • "L'usato ardir" - Assur, Arsace & Semiramide (Act 2)



  1. ^ Raymond Monelle, Review of Semiramide redenta: archetipi, fonti classiche, censure antropologiche nel melodramma. Music & Letters, 73(3), 448-450 (1992).
  2. ^ Marita P. McClymonds, eview of Semiramide redenta: archetipi, fonti classiche, censure antropologiche nel melodramma. Notes (2nd Ser.), 50(1), 139-141 (1993).
  3. ^ Guido Johannes Joerg, p.27; booklet to DVD cat. 100 222, ArtHaus Musik, 1991
  4. ^ William Ashbrook, "Semiramide. Gioachino Rossini." The Opera Quarterly, 11(1), 151-153 (1994 ).


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


Proper noun

Semiramide f.

  1. Semiramis

Simple English

Semiramide is an Italian opera written by Gioachino Rossini. It has two acts. It was first performed at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice, on February 3, 1823, libretto by Gaetano Rossi. This was after Voltaire's Semiramis. This opera was successful from the start and is still performed today.

Principal roles


  • The Complete Dictionnary of Opera & Operetta, James Anderson, Vikings Books, 1989.


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