Anna Bonitatibus, 100 years of Semiramide (Wigmore Hall, 5 October 2016)

As mezzo fans know, in 2014 Boni put together a themed CD centred on Semiramide, a very popular character throughout the 18th century and even a little beyond. She’s still touring this project and on Wednesday the tour reached London to much acclaim from the Wigmore Hall audience.

Collegium 1704
Václav Luks conductor
Anna Bonitatibus mezzosoprano

Semiramide “La signora regale”

Semiramide in Ascalone Antonio Caldara
Povera navicella

Semiramide HWVA8 (pasticcio) George Frideric Handel/Vinci
Fuggi dagl’occhi miei

Semiramide riconosciuta Niccolò Jommelli
Barbaro, non dolerti… Tradita, sprezzata

Sémiramis Christoph Willibald Gluck
La Semiramide riconosciuta
Fuggi dagl’occhi miei

Semiramide riconosciuta Ferdinando Bertoni
Non so se più t’accendi



photo by thadieu – from the window of a music shop in Basel, Switzerland

I was introduced to Boni via Handel’s coloratura tour de force that is Come nembo/nube. Anyone who comes a winner in that Italian Handel battle has my attention. Up to this point I’d seen her as Cherubino at ROH and saw her Sesto from Brussels (not live). Cherubino was cute but hardly enough. Sesto – driven by demons in that production. I needed a bit more.

A few things came out of this performance: her exceptional involvement in recits/ariosos, crystal clear diction (a rarity these days) and the freeflowing coloratura (some gents at the back were very glad for the lack of aspirates in general).

From the getgo I’ve been a big fan of her tone, especially in the middle. It’s just so… mezzo. There’s that stubborn feel to it, like the character is a bit ticked off (think grounded teenager). That’s a good thing! Especially for trouser roles and revenge arias 😀 Though not so good for super happy arias, where I want more of a smile in the voice. But, really…

At the top her voice gets very bright but still mezzo (very audible but amazingly no ping, no matter how much forte she puts into it). In conclusion, she can sing these high mezzo/soprano roles but she still sounds solidly mezzo.

My favourite thing of the night was the Jommelli arioso Barbaro, non dolerti… Tradita, sprezzata of up and down moods, where she showed her superior skills at sustaining drama, coupled with excellent mix with the orchestra. As I later said to Baroque Bird, I found myself happy each time we returned to another recit. She’s the kind of singer who, though she can obviously spin coloratura at the highest speeds, does not randomly rush things. Couple that with the super crisp diction (hers are some rrrrolled Rs! plus you can make out _every_ word) and the beautiful middle, you just want her to tell you more.

La vendetta di Nino, o sia Semiramide Francesco Bianchi

La Semiramide in Villa Giovanni Paisiello
Serbo in seno il cor piagato

La morte di Semiramide Sebastiano Nasolini
Deh, sospendi ai pianti miei… Serbo ancora un’alma altera

Sémiramis (Dance No. 1 and No. 2) Charles-Simon Catel

Semiramide Gioachino Rossini
Bel raggio lusinghier this is an early version of the aria, not the one we’re used to

Semiramis Manuel García
Già il perfido discese… Al mio pregar t’arrendi


? Boni named this one as something (Semiramide related) from Isabela Colbran’s repertoire. Sounded like a shortish arioso.

Vanne fido, e al mesto regno Semiramide regina dell’Assiria Porpora

When a performance covers a century of music you get to observe how music changes. Boni flowingly moved through Baroque, Classical and Belcanto.

It’s also very interesting hearing the same aria done differently by different composers, like in the case of Fuggi dagl’occhi miei. As you probably guessed, Semiramide riconosciuta is a libretto by Papa Metastasio. Like in the case of most of his libretti, this one was the basis of pretty much all the Semiramide operas through the 1700s. So you get to hear the same arias tweaked this or that way by composers but they remain the same in spirit, because Metastasio had already worked the tune in his lines. Gluck, still in Baroque mode, puts an interesting spin on his, which here came off sort of jazzy – less straight-laced Baroque, though rhythmical.

Boni was so focused on the concept, we got 4 different outfits, two of which you can see here (starting with the very first, flesh/”gold” coloured one in Povera navicella and ending with the last one, the white/”Assirian”, in Vanne fido…). There was also a red and a black one in between.

Vanne fido… is an excellent example of all I was talking about so far – taking her time, dramatic involvement, beautiful “mezzo” middle, sharp diction, soft, flowing attack on coloratura (which I now understand is a fast vibrato – well there you go, Baroque Bird, you were right!).

Though she was very serious through the performance, Boni appeared very touched by the reception after the encores (I thought she was going to step down into the audience and chat with us 😉 ). For me, surrounded as I was by very well behaved fans (though the gent in front of me constantly positioned himself at an angle and I had to angle along), it was an introspective evening, but Baroque Bird encountered heavy breathers (not that kind…), rustlers and a chatty lady.

In conclusion, somebody stage/organise a concert performance of that Jommelli with Boni in the title role, please 🙂


About dehggial

Mozart/Baroque loving red dragon

Posted on October 7, 2016, in baroque, classical period, italian opera, live performances, mezzos & contraltos, wigmore hall and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. I really want to hear her live! Your excellent review prompted me to search for the dates of Il ritorno di Ulisse in patria, which she will sing (as Penelope) at the Grange festival. It’s very unfortunate, I also wanted to see Cosi’ fan tutte at Grange, and there is no way to see them both in the same trip. So many operas, so little time….

  2. Don’t mind me, I’ll just be sitting here reading through this two more times. Or three.

    • 😉 btw, have you read Leander’s report on Eliogabalo?

      • no! thanks for the link – just finished the livestream, am on my way over there!

        • (eavesdropping… while sorting out budget on this side.. and that i missed the livestream.. but love the photo on this post, and more envious again.. I thought the “official” Rossini’s SEmiramide’s entrance aria is low enough for a high mezzo to take a stab? )

          • you should love the photo, you took it 😀 I liked the guitar in the background, it looks “more natural”.

            yea, I think Semiramide is low enough – JDD sings it.

            • i know, i recognize the photo, gorgeous day frolicking basel 😉 . yes, I was surprised Boni doesn’t sing that too.. I think it’s more interesting for her to discover (and/or show the audience) of everything else about Semiramide, otherwise the only thing they’d come out of a recital would be comparing her to the 10000 other versions already existing of that famous aria 🙂

              • otherwise the only thing they’d come out of a recital would be comparing her to the 10000 other versions already existing of that famous aria🙂

                yep, especially when there is so much more Semiramide material out there that most of us didn’t know about until now.

  3. I am ALWAYS right 🙂

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