Synopsis - Act I
Semiramide is set in ancient Babylon, although as the slide show demonstrates, Travis Preston has created a decidedly modern production for the Minnesota Opera. The queen Semiramide and Prince Assur have murdered her husband, Nino, and attempted to murder her son (and heir to the throne) Arsace. Arsace has survived however, and now, 15 years later, he returns, unknown to either his mother or would-be stepfather, as a decorated commander on one of the kingdoms far-reaching frontiers.
Act One opens at the temple of Baal, where the high priest Oroe leads priests, nobles and people of Babylon in prayer, and await the arrival of Queen Semiramide, who has promised to name a successor to the throne.
Semiramide's accomplice, Assur, indicates that he expects to be chosen as king, but fears the priest Oroe knows about his role in Nino's death. Indian King Idreno also joins the ceremony, who has come to the sanctuary to ask the gods' blessing on his love for the princess Azema.
Semiramide arrives with much fanfare, and prepares to announce the successor to the throne (presumably Assur,) when in a great flash the sacred flame is suddenly extinguished, to the shock of the crowd. Semiramide turns to Oroe for guidance, who claims the gods are troubled by the unpunished murder of King Nino's ghost, and that an oracle will soon arrive from Memphis to bring order.
Later, after the frightened crowd has dispersed, Oroe returns to find the Commander Arsace, who has arrived at the temple to also receive the gods' approval for his love for the princess Azema. He carries with him a casket containing the sword and scrolls belonging to his late father, items that Oroe appears to recognize. Assur appears, and reprimands Arsace for leaving his post without his (Assur's) permission. When Assur learns of Arsace's plan to marry Azema, he threatens to kill the young commander, and Arsace in turn vows to never recognize Assur as king.
Back at the palace, Semiramide rejoices over the return of Arsace, and with her ladies in waiting await his arrival. The ambiguously worded pronouncement by the oracle at Memphis proclaims that peace will be restored with Arsace's return and marriage, which Semiramide takes to mean her own wedding to him.
Arsace arrives, and in one of Rossini's most eloquent duets, a case of mutual misunderstanding transpires. Arsace asks for the hand of Azema, and Semiramide misinterprets his amorous overtures as love for her, agrees to his request.
In the finale of Act One, Semiramide announces that Arsace is to be both king and her husband, and that Idreno will be granted Azema's hand in marriage. The bewildered Arsace is appalled, Assur is furious, Azema is disappointed, and the citizens of Babylon are confused. Just as she orders Oroe to unite Idreno and Azema, the ghost of King Nino dramatically rises from his tomb, and proclaims that Arsace will be king, but that he must enter Nino's tomb to make a sacrifice to the dead king's ashes, thus avenging his murder.
Act I - Act II