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Joyce DiDonato as Elena [Photo © 2013 Ken Howard]
13 Aug 2013

La Donna del Lago at Santa Fe

Based on Sir Walter Scott’s narrative poem “The Lady of the Lake,” the opera by Rossini and librettist Andrea Leone Tottola was first seen in 1819 at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples.

La Donna del Lago at Santa Fe

A review by Maria Nockin

Above: Joyce DiDonato as Elena

Photos © 2013 Ken Howard


DDL_0706.gifJoyce DiDonato as Elena and Marianna Pizzolato as Malcolm

It tells of James V of Scotland (1512 - 1542), the father of Mary Queen of Scots, and his relationship with the family of his estranged tutor, Duglas of Angus. The Lady of the Lake was Duglas’s daughter, Elena, who often enjoyed boating on Loch Katrine.

Not many United States operagoers have seen Gioachino Rossini’s 1819 opera, La Donna del Lago. Thus, when performances were announced at Santa Fe Opera, all six were sold out before opening night. As a result, the company added a performance at the end of the season. Based on Sir Walter Scott’s narrative poem The Lady of the Lake, the opera by Rossini and librettist Andrea Leone Tottola was first seen in 1819 at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. It tells of James V of Scotland (1512 - 1542), the father of Mary Queen of Scots, and his relationship with the family of his estranged tutor, Duglas of Angus. The Lady of the Lake was Duglas’s daughter, Elena, who often enjoyed boating on Loch Katrine.

Director Paul Curran described the work as a medieval story based in Arthurian legend but seen through nineteenth century eyes. He told the story in realistic terms without any updating. Kevin Knight’s scenery was plain, but evocative of the ambience of the heather-strewn Scottish countryside. His costumes set the action in the unrest of the sixteenth century. Lighting is always of optimum importance in this open-sided theater and Duane Schuler’s designs added much to the visual quality of the piece.

Santa Fe Opera’s production featured an all-star cast in which coloratura mezzo-sopranos Joyce DiDonato and Marianna Pizzolato sang with agile-voiced tenors Lawrence Brownlee and René Barbera. DiDonato was a tall, elegant Elena, who rendered the most difficult coloratura with exquisite taste and beauty of tone. Brownlee was brilliant as Uberto, the disguised King James V. The flexibility of his voice is truly amazing, but even though he was a ruler, he did not get the girl! Neither did Barbera as Rodrigo di Dhu, whom Duglas had chosen to be Elena's husband. While Brownlee’s voice is smooth and his tones burnished, Barbera’s is light and bright. The suitor who finally wins Elena is Malcolm, a pants-role character. Pizzolato sang the part with smooth tones and wonderful vocal flexibility.

DDL_3144.gifRene Barbera as Rodrigo, Joyce DiDonato as Elena, and Lawrence Brownlee as Uberto

Duglas, portrayed by Wayne Tigges, was the main villain in the piece. He sang with dark menacing tones and commanded the stage while keeping his daughter apart from her true love. Three apprentices acquitted themselves well in this performance. Lucy Sauter was a sweet-sounding Albina, while Joshua Dennis and David Blalock were effective in their roles as servants. Every year Susanne Sheston makes a first class opera chorus out of the diverse group of apprentices who come to Santa Fe for the summer. This year she has succeeded beyond all expectations. Although the work was new to them, the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra conducted by Stephen Lord played Rossini’s difficult score in exquisite bel canto style. There were many solos, particularly for wind instruments and all of them were perfectly rendered. With Rossini’s fabulous music and this wonderful cast, perhaps we will be able to become more familiar with this beautiful opera and hear it in other settings.

by Maria Nockin

Cast and production Information:

Elena, Joyce DiDonato; Uberto (James V in disguise), Lawrence Brownlee; Albina, Lucy Sauter; Serano, Joshua Dennis; Malcolm, Marianna Pizzolato; Duglas, Wayne Tigges; Rodrigo, René Barbera; Bertram, David Blalock; Director, Paul Curran; Design, Kevin Knight; Lighting, Duane Schuler; Chorus Master, Susanne Sheston; Conductor, Stephen Lord.

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