Joyce DiDonato's Metropolitan Opera triumph 'La Donna del Lago' out on DVD
Joyce DiDonato has become closely identified with the title role in Rossini’s La donna del lago (The Lady of the Lake). She has starred as the 16th-century Scots maiden in London, Paris, Geneva, Milan, Santa Fe and, early in 2015, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
There, as in several previous productions, her King James V (here known as Giacomo, but disguised under the name of Uberto) was the king of bel canto tenors, Juan Diego Flórez. He and DiDonato made for a fiery duo in the Warner Classics DVD of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, recorded at London’s Royal Opera House; here, under the more dramatic circumstances of this story of love and war, they do so again.
Fortunately, La donna del lago is another opera that reaches a happy conclusion, marked by Elena’s joyous and virtuosic aria Tanti affetti. As Opera magazine wrote: “Now a celebrated exponent of the role, Joyce DiDonato brought it to the Met in peak form, a captivating combination of disarming gracefulness and pyrotechnical skill. Both were apparent in her aria finale, Tanti affetti, in which a lavish use of pianissimo initially expressed Elena’s almost speechless gratitude at the resolution of events, with ensuing coloratura passages, impeccably executed, expressing unalloyed joy.”
The New York Observer summed up her lead tenor’s performance by declaring that “perfection [is] Juan Diego Flórez’s trademark. In Uberto’s ravishing second act aria Oh fiamma soave, he not only unfurled the melody with pinpoint precision, every little filigree placed just so, but the piece as a whole had a handsome shape. It seemed to bloom like a flower. He also created the most interesting character in the drama, passionate but ironic, a king at play.”
As it happens, a second brilliant tenor is required in La donna del lago, to portray the rebel Rodrigo di Dhu. Here he is John Osborn, especially celebrated in Rossini for his prowess in the notoriously arduous role of Arnold in Guillaume Tell. Rodrigo is betrothed to Elena, though in fact her true love is Malcolm – written for mezzo-soprano and splendidly taken here by Daniela Barcellona, a mainstay of the annual Rossini festival in the composer’s birthplace, Pesaro.
Another Italian, Michele Mariotti, conducts the performance, and the New York Observer wrote that he “found more colors and textures in this unpretentious score than many conductors mine from Puccini or Richard Strauss. What he accomplishes could serve as a practical definition of ‘bel canto’—taking quite simple music and transforming it into something ravishingly lovely through intuitively graceful phrasing.”
That same trust in the essence of this opera was evident in the production by Paul Curran – a genuine Scotsman, born in Glasgow. Before the Met, he and DiDonato had already collaborated on La donna del lago at the Santa Fe festival in New Mexico. As Joyce DiDonato explains: “He’s Scottish, so he brought out a lot about the importance of hospitality, the importance of custom, the importance of clan, which I hadn’t really delved into before.
"And what I love about Paul is that he insists on finding the emotional content of each scene. So people may say that the plot is at times implausible, which is perhaps true – but in terms of emotion, absolutely not. Here is a girl who is stuck. She’s stuck with her family … but then her world opens up when she sees this stranger, who is the king in disguise, and it’s exciting and it’s dangerous and she discovers things about herself that she did not know were in there.
“So if I look at the story on an emotional level, it’s entirely plausible, and that’s how I have to play it...If I’m on stage doing this crazy thing called opera, I have to believe 100% in what I’m doing … The emotional imperative has to be so strong that the only solution for my character in that moment is to sing.”
The NY Metropolitan Opera production of Rossini's La Donna del Lago is available now on DVD and Blu-Ray.
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