|Alex Esposito and Joyce DiDonato|
The new production by David Alden sets the action in a modern, generic Middle Eastern dictatorship, rather than in ancient Babylon. Both Alex Esposito and Joyce DiDonato are making their role debuts, as Semiramide and Assur respectively. The role of Semiramide was written for Rossini's mistress Isabella Colbran, an alto with great extension. In recent years the role has been sung primarily by sopranos including Joan Sutherland, Angela Meade, Laura Aikin, Elena Mosuc. Leah Crocetto, Montserrat Caballé, June Anderson and Edita Gruberová, Perhaps the most famous Assur of our generation was Sam Ramey, who recorded the role and performed it on stage.
The libretto by Gaetano Rossi is based on Voltaire's tragedy Semiramis, which in turn was based on the legend of Semiramis of Assyria.
In the opera, Queen Semiramide is haunted by the ghosts of her past. Together with her lover Assur, she once murdered her husband King Nino; a deed which ever since has weighed heavily upon her. With her marriage to Arsace, she hopes her soul will at last find solace. Her love, however, is misplaced. Arsace not only loves another, he is also, as is later revealed, the son Semiramide and Nino believed to be dead. He is faced with a decision: should he avenge the death of his father – and thus become his mother's killer?