We start the evening with an opera by Giacomo Puccini. Manon Lescaut was based on a 1731 book by Antoine François Prévost , which had been used several times before, including Massenet’s successful opera Manon. Puccini used 5 librettists for the libretto, and parts of the text was written by the composer himself. He also recycled bits and pieces from previous works. The work was premiered in Turin in 1893, his third opera and his first great success.
Tonight’s recording is from 1992, and features Mirella Freni, Luciano Pavarotti, Dwayne Croft, Giuseppe Taddei, Ramon Vargas, and Cecilia Bartoli. James Levine conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus.
Our next opera is one by Gioachino Rossini. While he is famous for his comic operas, he began writing more serious operas in 1816 for Isabella Colbran, whom he met in 1815 and married in 1822. Tonight’s opera, SemiRamide, was the last opera that he wrote for her, and his last Italian opera before he relocated to Paris. He used a libretto by Gaetano Rossi, wrote the opera in 33 days, and premiered the opera in 1823. While the opera was initially successful, it eventually disappeared from the repertoire until it was revived by Joan Sutherland in Milan in 1962. Tonight’s performance features Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne, along with Joseph Rouleau, John Serge, Patricia Clark, Spiro Malas, Leslie Fryon, and Michael Langdon. The Ambroisan Opera Chorus and the London Symphony Orchestra were directed by Richard Bonynge.