Andrea Tottola wrote the 'limpid' libretto for La Dona del Lago [The Lady of the Lake] for Gioachino Rossini. It premiered in Naples in 1822. His nickname was 'the Italian Mozart' and he wrote 20 operas between 1815 and 1823. Although the premiere wasn't a resounding success, it was later acclaimed by audiences and critics alike around the world until 1860, after which time it was shelved until 1958.
Set in the reign of King James V, early 16th century, like most operas the action is complex and dramatic with a story line that makes no real sense. This production is set on an open stage and the leading lady gets only one frock, arriving at court inappropriately dressed. Opera producers don't always get it 'right', but in this case all is forgiven as the amazing cast enjoy their roles and deliver thrilling performances.
King James [Juan Diego Florez] has a habit of roaming the countryside in disguise and comes across Elena [Joyce DiDonato] who asks him home. It is love at first sight for the king, but she is in love with Malcolm, a 'pants part' played by mezzo soprano Daniela Barcellona. At this point the audience is taken to heaven by romantic arias and duets.
Let's make it short. The king learns that Elena's father Douglas is raising an army to fight him and has joined the clan leader Rodrigo [John Olson], suitor no 3, who is also in love with this famous beauty, Elena. A battle ensues and love songs turn to battle cries, and after lots of duets, trios and arias, the battle is over, the king wins the day and Rodrigo is killed. The king is magnanimous in victory and decides not to kill his enemies and let the lovers unite.
Many reasons have been suggested as to why this opera disappeared from the repertoire. Did Rossini demand too much from his singers? It is more likely that finding 3 world class tenors and a mezzo soprano who can also reach the heights of a dramatic coloratura is difficult to find at the same time in history. Miss DiDonato is such a mezzo. John Olson was asked by the presenter Patricia Racette 'Why do you chose these roles?' he replied 'because I can, I love the high notes!' What a question.
Michele Mariotti, the conductor, fell in love with 'La Donna del Largo' at the age of 8. He is now regarded as a specialist in bel canto [beautiful singing] and in particular the works of Rossini. After studying composition at the conservatoria of Rossini he was invited to conduct his first opera in 2005 at the tender age of 26. His love for this opera shines through, he says the music is 'liquid and slips on your body'.
It is suggested to singers with vocal challenges to sing some Mozart or Rossini arias, both are kind to the voice, but demanding. Both give plenty or 'rest' time between vocal acrobatics, and in this opera the demands on the singers are enormous and exciting for the audience. The standing ovation at the end was well deserved.
Blending voices in opera doesn't always result in beautiful singing, but this time the results are sublime. Miss Donato and Miss Barcelona nail it their opening duet. One might think things can't get better, but they do. A trio of tenors perfectly hone the battle of the high C's, and yes, there is more. Elena's final aria 'Tani Affetti' leavers one going home breathless.
'So many emotions at such a moment Come clamouring about my heart That I cannot explain to you
My immense happiness'
The DVD is available and the opera may well be repeated later this year, so check with the Dendy site for details.