John Osborn as Rodrigo, Joyce DiDonato as Elena, and Juan Diego Flórez as Giacomo V in Rossini's "La Donna del Lago." Photo: Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera
Reviewed by James Karas
Rossini’s La Donna del Lago premiered in 1819. It was first produced at the Metropolitan Opera this year - a mere four years short of two centuries later.
There may be good reasons for giving the opera a wide berth but after the Met’s production the artistic reasons should be reduced even if the financial demands may discourage productions in the less well-heeled houses.
The Met production capitalizes on all the virtues of the opera – its outstanding music and superb solo and ensemble vocal pieces and minimizes the static nature of the opera which can make it appear like a set piece which can, in the long run, be deadly.
Let’s start with cast. The cast is as good as you can get. Joyce DiDonato delivers such vocal finesse, prowess and beauty that her interpretation of Elena becomes a defining performance. With her red hair she looks like a Scottish lass whose conflict between love and duty is preformed superbly.
Juan Diego Flores does not sing; he soars and his King James V is virile, romantic and sung to perfection. If Flores deserves to be called King of the High C’s, John Osborn as Rodrigo is right up there with him. Combined with a fine voice he has an expressive face and a nice tendency to raise his eyebrows when making a point.
La Donna is a ménage a quatre instead of the frequently met soprano being pursued by a tenor and a baritone and the latter going home empty handed if not dead. Here we have two tenors vying for the hand of Elena and the winner is a mezzo-soprano. The winner is Malcolm sung by mezzo-soprano Daniela Barcellona. She has a beautiful and expressive voice and she made a good Malcolm.
Rossini makes serious demands on the choruses and the Met has the wherewithal to fulfill the needs of the opera. The end of the first act requires three choruses and the scene is as thrilling and magisterial as you are likely to get in opera.
Splendid as the individual pieces can be La Donna can become static. Director Paul Curry has managed to reduce that danger dramatically. He makes the singers interact and no scene is permitted to linger with singers sitting on different parts of the stage as if their feet were nailed to the boards. He creates drama through interaction and brings the opera to life the way Rossini may or may not have imagined.
Michele Mariotti conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra at a brisk pace without hurrying through the arias that require a slower pace.
The set by Kevin Knight gives the lie to the title. Elena may be called the lady of the lake but she is more the lady of the mountains. There is some indication of a body of water in the background but Gary Halverson, the director for the cinema, does not really want us to see it.
Knight’s design shows us barren mountains and there is no attempt to prettify them. If you don’t care about the title of the opera and Rossini’s directions, you will not mind. But Rossini had a specific vision of the set with a densely wooded mountains rising above a valley where there is a lake and a bridge. Elena is in a boat and she is watching the morning light and commiserating about her love. Forget the boat and the rest of Rossini’s ideas for the set and enjoy the production.
La Donna del Lago by Gioachino Rossini was transmitted Live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera in New York on March 14, 2015 at the Cineplex VIP Don Mills Shops at Don Mills, 12 Marie Labatte Road, Toronto Ontario M3C 0H9 and other theatres. Encores will be shown on May 9 and May 11, 2015 at select theatres.. For more information: www.cineplex.com/events