By which I mean I went to the cinema to see the Met's HD transmission of La Donna del Lago.
It was the first time this season that I'd made the journey and, as always, I came away telling myself that I really should go more often. But, why oh why, do these broadcasts have to be on a Saturday afternoon!?
I will venture a few amateur's observations on the production. (Will, who has seen lots more opera that I have may have a more professional and informed opinion. :-) )
The opera by Rossini is based on a poem by Sir Walter Scott. I have not read the poem and can say nothing about the fidelity of the libretto to the source. My guess is not much. During the intermission features, it was acknowledged that the libretto has it problems. Those didn't bother me much. What opera libretto doesn't have problems? La Traviata, for example.
The music was, to me, entirely forgettable. That's not to say that it wasn't enjoyable. It was rich but it wasn't memorable. I didn't come away humming any tune from the score. Unlike, say, Guillaume Tell (which I have not seen).
The staging was, on the whole OK. I like the way the Scottish Highlands were imagined with a simple backdrop. The transition to Ellen's cottage was clever and simple. I did not like the heads impaled on pikes in Act 2. Nor did I like the woad-smeared Bards. Come on. This was James V not Mel Gibson's Braveheart. And did woad not go out with Boadicea? And that early scene in which hunters alternated roughing up some women with kneeling to sing devout prayers was weird.
And then in the final scene, we revert to gold upholstery fabric clad courtiers and King!? That just looked so wrong to me.
What this opera does provide - in spades - is the opportunity for good singers to sing. Boy did they ever. I saw Joyce DiDonato last year in Maria Stuarda and was blown away. She didn't disappoint. I've heard of Juan Diego Florez though I'd not heard him sing before. He didn't disappoint. He's also wonderful operatic eye candy. He didn't disappoint on that count either.
The biggest surprise, though - in more ways than one - was Daniella Barcellona. I think she was the star of this production. I hadn't known that this was an opera with a "pant's role", i.e. one in which a mezzo-soprano sings a man's part until moments before the broadcast start. Barcellona is a tall statuesque woman - so she has the physical build for the part. Indeed, I wonder whether she gets typecast into pants roles for this reason. She sang wonderfully well and fully embraced and acted her part. For example, during her duet with Joyce DiDonato (Vivere io non saprò/ potrò, mio ben, senza di te, I think) they both ended with a tender kiss that was entirely the right thing to do. Barcellona had a wonderful ability to start an aria without moving her lips and then explode into full expressiveness.
...Malcolm ... is played to shocking, stunning effect by the Italian mezzo Daniela Barcellona who has been made to look like a wild Scotsman. (‘Malcolm is the big girl,’ one lady at the interval explained to another lady.) Her voice makes clear that, although there are some magnificent choral pieces in the opera, it is not a work made for ensemble singers, but for stars. DiDonato, Florez and Barcellona take the parts written for them and make them personal, as though the opera were created precisely for their particular vocal talents and ranges of expression. The moments when Barcellona, who has a very powerful voice, lets go, while singing towards the audience, make you forget that she is meant to be playing a man and allow you to relish the mixture of passion and control.
By contrast, James Jorden was rather scathing in his review of Ms. Barcellona:
More problematic was the romantic lead Malcolm, cast according the conventions of Rossini’s time with a contralto, Daniela Barcellona. The character feels completely dispensable, his two elaborate arias standing outside the dramatic action. Really breathtaking virtuoso singing could bring these pieces to life, but Ms. Barcellona’s voice seemed to work optimally only on very high and low notes. In the middle of her range, where most of the coloratura fell, her singing was accurate but careful, the myriad of little notes just barely sounding. A tall, statuesque woman, Ms. Barcellona made a less than convincing Scottish warrior, costumed as she was in a frumpy kilt and patchy facial hair that made her look like she was at an awkward stage of female-to-male gender reassignment.
I don't agree with this assessment and can only point to the rousing cheers for Ms. Barcellona at her curtain call. Those were, it seemed to me, more resounding than those for DiDonato and Florez.
There were two other singers with major parts: Oren Gradus as Douglas, and John Osborn as Rodrigo. Both sang well also. The "battle of the high C's" between Florez and Osborn was good.
Again, Colm Tóibín put it well:
But what matters to the composer, it seems, is the singing. More than the drama, or the story, or the setting, Rossini wrote so that three or four great singers could display their talent. In casting DiDonato, Florez and Barcellona, the Met has managed to resurrect this opera and do justice to these great parts.
To finish this post, here are Daniela Barcellona and Juan Diego Florez singing the duet "Non sai tu di donna l'arte" from Donnizetti's Lucrezia Borgia: