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The Sunday Opera: Ottorino Respighi's "Semirama"

Rarely heard works by Ottorino Respighi are the focus on this week’s Sunday Opera (1/16 3:00 p.m.) featuring his first opera from 1910, “Semirama.”   Based on the same source material as Rossini’s “Semiramide,” Voltaire’s 1748 play “Semiramis,” the opera centers on the machinations of a Babylonian queen who murders her husband with the help of a Roman governor named Falasar who believes he will be her king.   Semirama has other plans, and they include marrying the young military hero Merodach and making him her king.  The difficulty is that Merodach is in love with Susiana, Semirama’s companion who is a princess from a neighboring country.   Merodach and Susiana knew each other as children before Merodach came to Babylon, and their love for each other has grown.   Another complication is that Merodach is actually Semirama’s son who was abducted by Falasar when he killed the king.   Of course, there are consequences.   The recording to which we’ll be listening comes from 1990 and features Eva Marton as Semirama.   Merodach is Lando Bartolini, Susiana is Veronika Kinces, and Falasar is Lajos Miler.  Lamberto Gardelli is conducting the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra and Hungarian State Radio and Television Chorus. 

We’ll be continuing with another work of Respighi which is not often performed.   His Sinfonia Drammatica was written in 1914, and many musicologists believe it grew directly out of what Respighi was experiencing during World War I.   This is performed by the BBC Philharmonic under the direction of Sir Edward Downes. 

The afternoon ends with the first suite of Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances based on melodies from the 16th century, so you can put on your dancing shoes and join in.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.