The first thing to know about La Donna del Lago; the heroine of Rossini’s opera of the same name, is that she is NOT the same character as Delores de Lago; ‘the Toast of Chicago’. Once I put that confusion behind me, I was able to see the Santa Fe Opera’s production of La Donna del Lago with an open mind.
Based on a poem by Sir Walter Scott, La Donna del Lago; the Lady of the Lake, is the story of the Scottish lass, Elena, who is loved by three men in the midst of a rebellion of a Scottish Highland clan against James V, King of Scotland. Her father wants her to marry Rodrigo, the Highland chief who loves her but fails to capture her heart. The King loves her, especially when he is wandering around disguised as Uberto., but again, she loves him not. Her heart belongs to the dashing Malcom but her father, the King, and two opposing armies stand between them.
The opera has an interesting history. Written in 1819, it was 29th of Rossini’s 39 operas. It was very successful and part of the standard repertoire of major opera houses until about 1860 when it, effectively, disappeared. Tastes moved toward a more realistic, verismo, style of opera. Victorian era sensibilities were cool toward the melodramatic styles of bel canto pieces such as this. It would be almost 100 years before another major production of the opera would appear. Given new life as a part of the bel canto revival in the mid-late 20th century, the opera was showcased to a new generation of opera goers in a production starring Frederica von Stade and Marilyn Horne in the early 1980’s.
The cast is universally terrific. Special praise goes to Joyce DiDonato in the title role and to Marianna Pizzolato in the trouser role of Malcom. The production looks great as well. I was not impressed by the set at the beginning but as it demonstrated it versatility as the opera progressed it won me over.
Toward the finale of Act I a number of Highland clansmen appear in simple blue garments and slashes of blue body paint and proceed to writhe on the stage. Later the rest of the Highland clansmen apply the blue war paint and head off to do battle as the Act ends. Based on the movie Braveheart, I gather this kind of war paint is historically accurate so including it in the opera lends verisimilitude. The gyrations were distracting however. Imagine listening to beautiful, powerful music while watching a group of Smurfs attending the prom at Saint Vitus High School.
Blue men notwithstanding, I can’t think of a valid criticism for this production. It is wonderfully conceived and brilliantly executed. All of which makes it odd to say I have no wish to see another production of La Donna del Lago. I can’t imagine it being done any better than Santa Fe’s production and I don’t much care for the opera itself. Unlike most Rossini operas, there is no overture. Not a great deal happens to move the story along. It’s a matter of personal taste but, for me, a little coloratura goes a long way. In this opera there are two brilliant mezzos and two brilliant tenors with apparently free rein to display their virtuosity; just too many notes for my unsophisticated ear. I am very happy to have seen this production but I think I will give the opera a pass next time I have the opportunity to see it.