The Met presents rare Donna di Lago

La Donna del Lago, Rossini’s tale of rebellion in the Highlands, premieres at the Met.

From the announcement last February that Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Flórez would premiere Rossini’s opera seria La Donna del Lago at the Met this season I knew I’d be there. Why would one miss a chance to witness arguably two of the finest singers of this era together again on stage singing a style of opera perfectly suited to their strengths? Especially when the opera was written by one of the all time great opera it is, home court.

DiDonato as Elena is every bit the center of La Donna del Lago. Much like Cinderella, she, the Lady of the Lake, is renowned for her beauty but she also excels at hospitality, kindness, and loyalty, all strong virtues in my book. Consequently, Elena has many admirers and a whole chorus of friends who, at one point in the opera, drop over to her hut for a dram of single malt and a spot of haggis. She also has three men, not to say gentle men, who seek her affections. Elena therefore has a lot of duets and her fair share of solo numbers. It’s a plum role for a high mezzo.

Joyce DiDonato is Elena

Joyce DiDonato is Elena

Like her Maria Stuarda, DiDonato’s Elena reveals more personality dimensions than one usually encounters in operas of this style. There are of course other singers who can get through the vocal challenges, but few can communicate the soul of their characters as well as DiDonato. Add to this her unique range of tonal qualities, from soft velvet to strong steel, and her agility…her final “all’s right with the world at last” aria Tanti affetti in tal momento is exquisite. DiDonato is, in a word, phenomenal. Brava!

Juan Diego Flórez sings Re Giacomo V (King James) of Scotland, who, disguised as Uberto (Hubert), wanders about seeking the legendary Lady of the Lake. He falls in love with her, but she is plighted to Malcolm, a Scottish warrior, though Elena’s father wants her to marry Rodrigo di Dhu, known by his close comrades as 'Whoop,' the gruff leader of the Highland. Flórez sings the fiendishly high tessitura of the role with aplomb, coloratura and all, and has longer scenes with DiDonato.

Elena's affections are torn between two lovers, Giacomo and Rodrigo.

Elena's affections are torn between two lovers, Giacomo and Rodrigo.

Equally high is the role of Rodrigo, sung admirably by John Osborn. The role of Malcom is sung by a mezzo, thus giving Rossini the opportunity to write a duet for two female singers. Daniela Barcellona is a good match with DiDonato.

The Oath Scene, ending Act I

The Oath Scene, ending Act I

There is ample work for the Metropolitan Opera Chorus, though they tend to travel in packs, thus transitioning the isolated banks of the lonely loch to the bustle of a Times Square in a heartbeat. The Oath Scene is a case in point, as is the glorious finale of the opera.

Michele Mariotti conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. He allows Rossini’s score to unfold rather gently, but adds muscle when needed.

The scenes in this new production by Paul Curran, with sets and costumes by Kevin Knight, are rather cleverly changed by shifting floors, elevators, portable props, and sky projections designed by Driscoll Otto. It’s a small, relatively spare, but effective set. The rocky floor space is flanked by immense black walls, probably just there to hide the wings backstage and meant to be unseen. No doubt the HD cameras will stick to this perspective.

By all means take the opportunity to see this one! As my dear friend Dick says, “You never know when they’ll do it again.”

And don’t hesitate because you don’t know La Donna del Lago. I’ll wager less than 1% of the audience knows La Donna del Lago, let alone has ever seen it on stage. But you probably know La Cenerentola and perhaps you even had the privilege of hearing DiDonato and Flórez in it last season. Though a serious opera, Lago is stylistically closer to Cenerentola than it is to a serious opera by any other composer. It’s another chance to relive the magic.

For the record, La Donna del Lago is scheduled for next season as well.

Photos: Ken Howard.

Review performance date: February 25, 2015.

Be advised: the performance’s running time is about 3 hours 15 minutes, including one long intermission. The first act is about 95+ minutes. Plan accordingly.

Make it special. Soon we’ll be dancing on the lawn in the moonlight. When the great thaw cometh, that is. JRS