Rossini, I take it all back

WARNING: If you are not an opera fan, I’m going to let rip, so jump to the pictures at the end.

See also Nina Mishkin’s post BEL CANTO AT THE MET.

On Tuesday we saw the encore of the Live from the MET performance of Rossini’s Donna del Lago in the cinema. Now Rossini in a problem for me. Fabulous music and delicious arias, but it is all about the vocal gymnastics and not the passions of the humans, except in an absurd and comic way. I tend to end Rossini performances feeling aurally battered and emotionally underfed.

The METs production of Donna del Lago has made me eat my words. It satisfies in every respect. With a faultless cast, who invest every phrase, every note, with the emotion it deserves and no (well, no intentional) comic interludes. This success is in major part due to the director, Paul Curran. He was working with peach of a cast, but he ensured that they acted out their emotions to the full and my god this makes a difference. The voices and all their fireworks serve the drama instead of the other way round. (Flores admits that the same cast did not achieve this emotional cohesion in the La Scala production – see youtube excerpts).

This was in maddening contrast to the production we saw in the cinema a week ago of the English National Opera production of La Traviata – Verdi is my favourite opera composer and Traviata nearly top of my list. I am up for experimental productions and this one, in an attempt to appeal to a new, young audience, had made deep cuts, reduced it to a two-act opera and set it in modern dress. I could live with that. The soloists had fine voices and plenty of acting ability and I will happily go and see them again. Two things irritated the hell out of me. One was the endless pinching/plagiarism of other directors ideas (or as my companions more charitably suggested paying tribute to others’ ideas). The other was the endless dramatic misses. these are the moments when the characters intend to express love, pain, hate, envy, anger TO EACH OTHER. Time after time, it is the conductor on the receiving end of these passions. This does not work for me and a decent director could surely avoid this (though again, my companions had a wonderful evening).

Back to Donna. Joyce di Donato (listen to the 1.35 min audio clip here) and Juan Diego Flores in the two major roles, are unsurpassed and unsurpassable in their field. I can listen and watch both with endless pleasure. For me the novelty was in the mezzo Daneila Barcellona playing Malcolm, the love interest. She had, in addition to a wonderful voice, a commanding presence and confidence, which is so often missing in trouser roles. The villain Rodrigo, sung by baritone/tenor John Osborn was another new voice to me, different in timbre and colour from Flores, but with fabulous high, as well as low, notes. All of this held together so flawlessly by the conducting go Michele Mariotti.

I’ll stop there. Ah… a picture or two:

IMG_0962 - Version 2DSCN7114 And what we saw of the eclipse…DSCN7125

28 thoughts on “Rossini, I take it all back

  1. I’m beginning to think you like opera.
    Glad you liked this production so much.
    I have to admit I had never heard of Donna del Lago until this post.

    • Indeed, indeed. And it was hardly on my radar either. I had a vague idea that it was an early Donizetti. It was a roaring success in Rossini’s lifetime. It’s a shame that all we get is the comedies, but looking at the youtube clips of the same cast in a different production of Donna, I might not have liked it under another director…

    • I can take listen to Una furtive lagrima anytime too. When I watch I care how they convey it. So Pavarotti, for instance, is OK to listen to, but not a great hit on stage for me. Whereas Rolando Villazon can move me in a concert hall.

  2. Opera is not something I know much about, though somehow I’ve picked up some famous arias along the way that I adore and can…ahem…”sing” word for word in Italian. After my lifelong partner died in 2010, I often caught myself singing Gluck’s “Che faro senza Euridice?” in the shower. Maybe I’ve been attracted to single arias rather than full operas for the same unknown reason I am drawn to poems rather than novels. “Nessun dorma,” “O mio babbino caro,” and “Vissi d’arte” all have the power to move me to tears. I guess that makes me a Puccini fan. At any rate I have thoroughly enjoyed your disquisition here about certain aspects of the theatricality and performance that I don’t often consider.

    • To listen to, single arias can also move me to tears – including all those you have mentioned. On stage, well done, operas transport me. But yes, a whole opera has a lot of bread and butter between the treats, so unless the director can lead you skilfully, it is a lot of prose and a few poems… I’m just listening to Lascia ch’io pianga… In my first novel I tried to look at the role of poetry in grief, I have turned to it all my life.

      • This makes me want to know more about your first novel. I have a leather-bound journal, hand written, of daily “poems” I wrote for 365 days of mourning after the death of my soul mate, and often wonder whether to type them up into a poetic work of some sort.

      • Yes, do type them up into a poetic work, please. I remain fascinated by the role of poetry in our lives.
        My first novel (A Small Rain, Hilary Custance) was published by a kindly, but utterly incompetent publisher (who sort of unedited it when his literary editor abandoned him). It is now out of print and doesn’t exist as an ebook. I’ve just looked on Amazon.com and there appear to be used copies available, but god knows which version with which misprints. My closest friends either think my writing has gone downhill since that first one OR that each novel is a great improvement on the last one… it is stash full of poetry and music.

  3. You review opera as well as you review books !!! You need to think seriously about setting yourself up as a reviewer, HCG; heaven knows the web needs reviewers of quality !
    (Upon reflection, I have decided that quality reviewers are those who KNOW THEIR SUBJECTS intimately, as well as being people who write very well.)
    Terrific, honestly !!!

  4. I’m an opera neophyte, honestly. We’re trying to figure out how to go to a smaller, local production of the Barber of Seville with the children . . . last year they had a delightful children’s evening-type event for The Magic Flute and we took the older child and she enjoyed it, though it was a tad overlong for her. I’m afraid opera is sometimes cost-prohibitive for us. My husband, the musician (so far) of the little family, would make a better commentator here as to the technicalities of such, but I got a lot out of reading your comments, Hilary. I’m certainly trying to learn more about opera (and actually learning through the kids’ program, OperaVox; although I understand some parents say some of the animation is too violent for children).

    • We took our older daughter to the Barber when she was eight. She had got to know the music, but we had tears and it was not very successful, so we waited a few more years. It is an acquired taste and, as you say, fiendishly expensive. The best route nowadays are the ‘Live from the Metropolitan Opera House’ (MET) productions like Donna del Lago, which are relayed to cinemas all over the world, or even cheaper, we have friends round and we watch DVDs.

  5. Loved your post, Joyce DiDonato is fabulous I attempted to go on one of her masterclasses at Carnegie Hall last month but it wasn’t to be sadly. I’ve just spent two long evenings recording with Les Sirenes female choir for their new cd and trying to catch up on some work during our Easter break but I’m giving myself this evening off 😀 although I’ve got so much to do I feel like I should be listening to some music or watching an opera but I can’t switch off the same if I do that. All my best wishes Charlotte

      • I really don’t know how to do that, Dads taken ages trying to work out how to set out a store 😊. I’ve been offered a fabulous training opportunity in Europe after auditioning a couple of months ago, it’s subsidised but it’s still expensive, thankfully I have some funds from the cd downloads I was saving for Masters to use and my parents have given me some cash for the flights and living costs. Best wishes Charlotte 😊

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