Fathom Events' "Donna del Lago": Unsinkable

Joyce DiDonato as "La Donna del Lago"
(photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

The latest HD broadcast from Fathom Events was the Metropolitan Opera's production of Rossini's “La Donna del Lago”, based on the novel “The Lady of the Lake” by Sir Walter Scott. Not seen at the Met for over a century, it's a tour de force for singers with incredible range. This production was among the most popular and critically acclaimed works of the Met's current season, despite a libretto by Andrea Leone Tottola that defies comprehension. Not as well-known as the “other Scottish Opera” (that is, Verdi's “Macbeth”), it could well become a favorite whenever the casting gods are in our favor, as they surely were this time around.

Since the opera is a relatively unfamiliar one to most of us, a brief synopsis might be helpful. The story takes place in Sterlingshire in the Scottish highlands in the sixteenth century. Elena, the titular Lady of Loch Katrine (mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato) makes her daily crossing of the lake, singing of her love for Malcolm (mezzo Daniela Barcellona in the pants role). Elena meets “Uberto”, actually the disguised King Giacomo V (tenor Juan Diego Florez), who learns that her father is his former tutor Duglas d'Angus (bass Oren Gradus), who now opposes him, and that she is betrothed to Rodrigo di Dhu (tenor John Osborn), the Highland Clan chief who is an enemy of the king. After the king departs, Malcolm arrives in time to hear Duglas order his daughter to marry Rodrigo. Once Duglas leaves, Elena and Malcolm proclaim their love. The Highland Clan gathers to support Rodrigo, who introduces Elena as his future bride. When news arrives that the King's army is attacking, the Clan goes off to war. Still disguised, the King finds Elena and declares his love for her, which she rejects. He gives her a ring which he says is from the King and will protect her. This is overheard by Rodrigo who vows to kill this “Uberto”. Later, Malcolm hears that Rodrigo has been killed and that Elena is at the palace, having used the ring to gain access in an effort to save Duglas, Malcolm and Rodrigo. Elena sees “Uberto”, surrounded by his subjects who reveal that he is the king. Moved by his love for her, he pardons Duglas and Malcolm. Elena and Malcolm are reunited and peace breaks out in Scotland.

This was a gloriously sung performance, with Didonato, Diego Florez and Osborn giving their all to the demanding requirements of bel canto music. All three were superb, with Osborn the biggest surprise, since the role of Rodrigo doesn't seem at first to be a major one. Their vocal talents were matched by their quite believable acting. The same could be said for Barcellona, who held her own with less difficult but no less impressive singing and acting, despite a rather distractingly unflattering costume. The rest of the cast, in the various supporting roles, also impressed with their contributions, including the chorus, though they didn't play as large a part as in other recent productions. Conductor Michele Mariotti led the Met Opera Orchestra with confident command. The Production was by Paul Curran (actually a co-production with Sante Fe Opera) with HD Direction by Gary Halvorson. The Set and Costume Design was by Kevin Knight, with Lighting Design by Duane Schuler, and Projection Design by Driscoll Otto. The Metropolitan Opera Chorus was under the direction of Chorus master Donald Palumbo for one of his final efforts before his retirement at the end of this season. The HD broadcast host was Patricia Racette. Everything was enjoyable, with the possible exception of the libretto.

There's no getting around the fact that the libretto is fundamentally flawed even by operatic standards. Both DiDonato and maestro Mariotti confessed as much during intermission interviews. Even so, given such marvelous singing, we could easily forgive the absurd plot. In the end it's that wondrous music that transports us across the lake with this memorable lady. With singers like these, it's a journey sure to be safe and unsinkable.

Screened at Regal Cinemas in Kingston; Encore Presentation Weds. March 18th at 6:30pm

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