Principal differences between the critical edition and the existing versions of the score:
The critical edition emends the errors and inconsistencies in the sources and restores the musical text to its original state. It discusses in the critical commentary and provides solutions in the score to recurrent problems in the interpretation of Rossini’s autograph and the performance material for the premiere of the opera that have generated different and at times erroneous readings in the existing versions.
The principal text of the critical edition is the version Rossini prepared for the premiere of Semiramide in Venice (Teatro La Fenice, 3 February, 1823).
In the preface to the score (in the section Historical Notes) the editors present and discuss a number of possible cuts effected in the 19th century, with particular reference to the productions prepared under the direct control of Rossini. These notes offer philologically reliable information thanks to which the modern performer can make plausible and informed choices in the staging of one of Rossini’s longest and most complex operas.
Appendix I provides a number of preparatory sketches elaborated by Rossini for No.s 7, 9 and 12. This edition publishes these with the sole purpose of documenting Rossini’s compositional practice and not with a view to their being used in a production.
Appendix II provides a series of autograph vocal variants for No.s. 1, 2, 9 and 10 located by the editors in the vocal parts used for the first performance of the opera in Venice. These variants were undoubtedly realised by Rossini to make it more comfortable for the singers to perform the relevant sequences and to adapt the tessitura of some passages considered uncomfortable at the time.
Appendix III provides an alternative version of the concluding section of Semiramide’s Cavatina (No. 5). What is involved is a first version of this famous piece immediately rejected by Rossini, but nevertheless preserved in the autograph in the form of a skeleton score. The completion of the instrumentation was realised by Philip Gossett.
Appendix IV (and the corresponding pages of the critical commentary) provides information aimed at registering the state of the text in the revival of the opera in Paris in 1825. This production took place under the direct control of the composer, who only on that occasion composed new music for the opera. Of the new pieces of music – a portion of a recitative and a chorus, both realised as substitutions of analogous sections of the Finale secondo (No. 14) – only the recitative «La madre, oh ciel...» has been preserved in a version for voice and piano which the critical edition presents.
In the critical commentary and the introduction to the score (the section Special problems) the editors deal with a number of problematic questions tied to instrumentation (with particular attention to the parts of the flute and piccolo and to those of the percussion instruments).
In the critical commentary the editors discuss problems tied to vocal ornamentation providing a series of 19th century vocal variants (corresponding to every musical number), a useful guide for the modern interpreter.
The critical edition provides in a supplementary volume the complete instrumentation for the stage band, prescribed by Rossini for No.s 1, 7 and 8 and sketched out by the composer within the autograph score in the usual reduced form on a single line. The instrumentation presented here has been realised on the basis of the single instrumental parts used for the premiere of the opera in Venice. For No. 1 the edition offers two alternative versions, both historically verified, providing all the information necessary to help the modern performer make a choice.