Libretto by Metastasio (I)
Boosey & Hawkes / Bote & Bock
Semiramide is the archetypal strong woman. Throughout much of operatic history there has been interest in adapting, for a current prima donna, the ancient legend of the Assyrian queen who cross-dresses as her son and saves the kingdom. Sartori’s libretto index lists more than a hundred different productions between 1593 and 1782. The outstanding libretto on this subject was, not surprisingly, that of Metastasio, but unusually for him, it has tinges of comedy, especially for the character of Ircano, a lovable boor, who seems closer to a Venetian buffoon (or even to Baron Ochs!) than to the usual noble hero or solemn villain of Metastasian opera seria. One of the finest settings was also the earliest, by the leading operatic composer of the day, Leonardo Vinci, who died young (from poisoning?). Handel probably chose this opera with the intention of using the title role for the comeback of one of his favorite singers, Margherita Durastanti. As the Handel scholar John Roberts has pointed out, he seems not to have had access to a complete score, so that several of Vinci's finest arias, as well as all the ensembles and accompagnati, are missing. Moreover, in casting the opera he had to make many changes, most of them not improvements and probably forced on him by the singers. We have chosen to return to Vinci’s original, published here for the first time, though retaining the most successful of the substitution arias .We have also retained, from Handel's pasticcio, the fine recitatives he composed to a cleverly shortened version of the text.