It's sometimes quite difficult to convince an audience numbed by countless Barbieri di Siviglia that Rossini's opera seria is actually what the cool kids are listening to; and more powah to Caramoor's 13th season of Bel Canto series (part of the annual International Music Festival in Katonah, NY) to awaken our purer Rossinian sensibilities with the critical edition of Semiramide, one of the Italian composer's grandest opere serie.
Coupled with Semiramide, Caramoor's 2009 Festival offered Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, another bel canto stunner, conducted by Will Crutchfield and the Orchestra of St. Luke's. But OC was really looking forward to the critical edition of Semiramide, painstakingly studied and prepared by University of Chicago professor & musicologist Philip Gossett (maximum scholar of Italian opera, the general editor of Rossini's and Verdi's critical works, and recipient of the prestigious Cavaliere della Gran Croce). Gossett restored a major cut to Semiramide: the dramatic death scene where the Babylonian princess meets her fate near the finale of the 3.5 hour opera (which was originally added by Rossini for a Paris revival). I mean, after listening to the story about a woman who kills her husband so she can rule as queen and then falls in love with her son, it's nice karma payback.
Through the driving rain that marked the northern pilgrimage to Katonah and the (ew ew ew) muddy floor of the 1700-seat Venetian Theater (really just a glorified, outdoor stage covered by a huge white tent), Caramoor's submissive (and markedly waspy) audience became rather enthused as Semiramide ignited the air and brought all the juicy pathos that we cherish in opera. Via Crutchfield, the Orchestra of St. Luke's, and a cast of excellent singers, the beauties of the score were flawlessly embraced, and the art of bel canto flourished.