Semiramide in Florence

The recent performances of Semiramide at the Florence Opera were dedicated to the memory of Luca Ronconi whose production of the work at Naples was revived here; he died in 2015. It is difficult to imagine a more fitting tribute to his qualities as a director. It was an exemplary staging of a “serious” Rossini work. Sober, partially stylised with meaningful and never fussy movement, it was wholly successful in creating a mystic world of pagan superstition where divine forces are all powerful. The superb designs of Tiziano Santi began with a temple of fractured stone, reflecting destruction consequent on the murder of King Nino; and later descended into the gloomy surrounds of his tomb (what for Shakespeare’s Pyramus was “Ninny’s tomb”). The protagonists often made their entrances and exits on blocks, reinforcing the primeval atmosphere, as did the otherworldly costumes of Emanuel Ungaro and the almost naked native observers of the action.

Musically the performance was in the very capable hands of Australian conductor Antony Walker. Incomprehensible to me why he was booed by a section of the audience, for I found his interpretation sharp in its attention to detail and responsive to the dynamics and rhythmic pliancy of the score. In this he was assisted by the marvellous Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale and its Chorus, the latter inventively placed around him in the pit rather than on the stage. With memories of Sutherland and Horne still fresh, virtuoso singers are required for the work. On the basis of this performance Jessica Pratt can follow in the footsteps of La Stupenda without qualms. She met the coloratura demands of the title role with consummate ease, the high notes emerging as pure silver. Silvia Tro Santafé offered a different, but equally effective style of singing: less brilliant but darkly intense. Good support from the other soloists. One left the theatre grateful for the aesthetic pleasure experienced and with the conviction that this is the way Rossini should be performed.