I’ve mentioned Sigismond Thalberg’s fantasies on Italian operas before. They are a poetical take on the great Italian operas of the piano virtuoso’s time. Francesco Nicolosi has been a champion of Thalberg’s music for decades. Recorded in Budapest in March of 1992 Variations on Operas by Rossini contains fantasies on themes from four Rossini operas: Semiramide, La Donna del Lago, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and Moïse.
Here is Thalberg’s setting of the great canonic ensemble Qual mesto gemito which is the centerpiece of the extended finale to the opera’s first act. Semiramide is perhaps Rossini’s greatest opera, certainly among the serious works. It’s so rarely performed because of the extraordinary demands in makes on the singers, especially the mezzo-soprano and the bass. It’s even harder to cast than Il Trovatore. It’s only had 28 performance at the Met. The first in 1892, the last in 1993. The was a span of almost a century when it wasn’t done at all.
The Met had Marilyn Horne and Sam Ramey for the 1990 run. Their extraordinary performances made the best case possible for this wonderful work. Here’s Qual mesto gemito performed as Rossini intended. Without great singers this opera is best left on the shelf.
The rest of Nicolosi’s Rossini album is filled with beautiful playing of some of the Swan of Pessaro’s most inspired tunes.