Blasts from the past: La donna del lago, ROH, 7 June, 2013
Last year’s production of La donna del lago had great reviews and a very enthusiastic reception from the public. It was indeed a good opportunity to hear Rossini sung the right way, as I found out for myself on 7 June 2013:
Last night I went to see the star-studded La donna del lago, with consummate Rossinians Joyce DiDonato (Elena, the lady of the lake), Juan Diego Florez (the enlightened tyrant, a bit of a left-over from opera seria, and also smitten with Elena within 2 minutes of their meeting) and Daniela Barcellona (Malcom, the young knight Elena loves).
The story is simple: rebels oppose absolutist king, king falls in love with the daughter of one of his ex-advisers now siding with the rebels, the woman is engaged to the chief of the rebels but of course loves a third. After fierce fighting and soul-searching love and honour prevail over base intentions in grand old skool stylee. Although this is not the usual tongue-in-cheek Rossini fare, there are a few unintentionally funny moments: the above-mentioned 2min tops falling in love, Malcom’s taking a moment during a crucial battle to sing of his love for Elena, after which the battle is promptly lost (the crowd nonetheless cheered) and Elena’s being surprisingly thick about the identity of the king whilst he’s wearing full regalia at his own court. Haha.
Right off the bat I will say that none of the stars disappointed, all in excellent voice. Moreover, the entire cast sung outstandingly. La donna is a more sensitive than usual Rossini piece which in his time (1819) kicked off the Walter Scott craze in opera (the most famous exponent of which is, of course, Lucia di Lammermoor, followed by I Puritani, both from 1835). It was beautifully conducted and played. The crowd was absolutely ga-ga for the stars, with raving applause even after those individual long, elaborate cabalette. I had the slight badluck to sit in front of the biggest Florez fan ever, who hooted and bravo-ed given the slightest occasion (and you know there were plenty). I’m actually not a very big Florez fan, Le Comte Ory notwithstanding. I find he sounds the same every time (and considering Rossini is one of my very faves, I’ve heard him many times), not adding a lot of individual vocal characterisation. However, I couldn’t fault him for the sounds he produced. I was too far up to see their facial expressions, but the acting was fine from what I could gather. The 3 mains have been doing this opera for a few years now, so it was no surprise they felt comfy with each other.
Unfortunately, I had a very stressful week with little sleep. I reached ROH within minutes of the start of the show and the show itself was the first time all day when I could kick back and relax a bit. The result was I could barely focus/keep my eyes open. Don’t ask me what the production was all about… It was rather pretty (loch, big revolving staircase standing in for the rustic manor and a number of boxes, for the main characters and objects of interest – I guess the production was meant to simulate bringing history to life?) but beyond that I’m not sure, even though I did watch the presentation of the production on ROH Open Day back in January. Rodrigo (Elena’s rejected fiance and chief of the Highland rebels – good ol’ Rossini, his heroines always have 2-3 men in their tow) was made to be a big hammy villain, with his people roughing up a bunch of damsels to a jaunty tune and he himself skipping about, ready to pounce on Elena. After much affano, all ends well with a marriage and the king’s conquering his coarse horniness (haha), crowned off by Elena’s big rondo, Tanti affetti, vintage Rossini, which rondo JDD does masterfully.
All in all, a lovely evening, would have been a great night had I been more with it.