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Although Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868) composed almost 40 operas, the number of years involved in that formidable production was only about 20. Amazingly, in the 39 years that remained to him after he completed his last opera William Tell in 1829, he never created another work for the stage. The seasons of Rossini’s operas started in 1810 in Venice with La cambiale di matrimonio, a one-act farce which was the first of his stage pieces to be performed. The last opera Rossini wrote in Italy before leaving in 1824 to win fame and fortune in Paris was Semiramide.
His addio to the Italian stage was a lurid one: The story (libretto by Gaetano Rossi adapted from Voltaire’s novel) tells of Queen Semiramis, who, taking the throne of Assyria and Babylonia (800 B.C.) by killing her husband, falls in love with a young man she doesn’t know is her son, and then is killed by her lover.
Although it contains material from the sordid opera, the bright Overture hardly suggests the blood and gore of the action that is played out on the stage when the curtain goes up.
Orrin Howard, who annotated Los Angeles Philharmonic programs for more than 20 years while serving as Director of Publications and Archives, continues to contribute to the Philharmonic program book.