Ossian meets Anne of Green Gables

Rossini’s La Donna del Lago is based on the Walter Scott poem, itself a deliberately romantic view of Scottish history, simplified until not much is left but the rivalry for the heroine’s hand by her three suitors and a completely unexplained war between the king of Scotland and the Clan Alpine.  Dramatically it’s thin indeed but it’s Rossini so there is crazy virtuosic music and it’s very hard to cast.  One needs two mezzos; one a mistress of Rossinian coloratura, the other more dramatic, and two tenors; both of which can do the crazy high stuff.  The supporting roles aren’t easy either.  Realistically only a major house could cast this adequately.

1.anne

The Metropolitan Opera did it in 2015 and the DVD release of the HD broadcast is a very good example of what the Met, and the HD broadcasts, do well and what they do not.  It’s got top drawer casting; DiDonato, Barcellona, Florez and Osborne, which leads to some really spectacular singing but it’s also got a production that, despite pretensions, never quite makes it out of the 1950s and where the more effective bits are badly undermined by dodgy acting and worse video camera work.

2.florez

The production is by Paul Curran and while he claims that the piece is “not really about Scotland at all” and references Game of Thrones, it looks like every Italian opera librettist’s idea of medieval Scotland with a few bits of earlier extraneous Celticry thrown in.  “Druids” make an appearance.  There’s cross burning too and what appears to be a walking wood appears in the second act.  Apparently this is essential when one is trying to overthrow a Scottish king.

3.hairyscotsmen

Then there’s Joyce DiDonato’s Elena who looks and acts like the title character in a very respectful CBC production of Anne of Green Gables.  But at least she acts as, to be fair, does Daniella Barcellona as Malcolm.  In fact she’s probably the pick of the cast in the acting department and is quite convincing in her kilted pants role.  The men though just offer up a collection of stock operatic “acting” gestures and grimaces.  It’s probably best summarized by saying that Juan DiegoFlorez, playing Juan Diego Florez as usual, is the best of them.  John Osborn as Rodrigo di Dhu and Orren Gradus as Duglas d’Angus never really get beyond eye rolling and meaningfully gripping sword hilts.  To be entirely fair to Curran it looks like he tried pretty hard to create interesting stage pictures with the chorus and with various landscape/skyscape projections but with little help from his “actors” and with Gary Halvorson in charge of the video department, as far as the DVD goes he might as well not have bothered.  Most of the chorus scenes are filmed, often from odd angles, in such a way that one just sees a mob of (inevitably) hairy Scotsmen making hairy Scotsmen gestures.

4.druids

It’s a shame it’s not more interesting dramatically because it is extremely well sung.  DiDonato is pretty much ideal in every way as Elena and I’m not sure where one could find two better Rossini tenors than Florez and Osborn.  Barcellona sings as well as she acts and everybody else is perfectly fine.  Michele Mariotti’s conducting is well paced and the orchestral textures are clear.  There’s some particularly nice work from the horns and the harpist.  If it were a concert performance one would be happy indeed.

5.malcolm

Technically the disks (it’s generously spread across two disks) are fine.  The picture is good and both Dolby surround and PCM stereo sound tracks are about ad good as DVD gets.  There is also a Blu-ray version.  The booklet has a synopsis and director’s notes.  The usual scripted and rehearsed anodyne interval interviews are included as extras.  There are English, French, Italian, German and Spanish subtitles.

6.court

All in all, this release exemplifies everything that drives me nuts about the Met HD series. It feels like a fantastic cast rather wasted in a production that has some merit, albeit the director seems to have lost his edge in the vastness of the Met, but all completely undermined by horrible filming.  Of course, not everyone feels that way and if the Met HD “product” is your thing you will likely like this one a lot.  Also, there’s no real competition for this work on video.  The only other recording available is an early 1990s La Scala effort.

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6 thoughts on “Ossian meets Anne of Green Gables

  1. This was originally done at Santa Fe–it was a late substitution for what is generally considered an even worse ROH production (something I find hard to believe) which had pretty much the same cast. I saw it in the house and seeing more of it does not make it better. Two things that especially bothered me: 1. Curran is a Scot and yet there seemed to be a lot of gratuitous raiding of the liquor cabinet–I also kept waiting for Groundskeeper Willy to show up (are there self loathing Scots?). 2. Cross burnings? I was appalled. Someone should have told him these have a real specific history in the US. I cannot believe that only a couple of the many reviews I saw even mentioned this. Even by the Met’s standards, I was shocked this piece of crap made it to the stage. Musically, first rate–turn off the TV and just listen to the audio.

    • I thought a lot about the cross burning. I think it’s insensitive for a production in an American house though, of course, it’s as historically accurate as anything in the piece and actually features in the original Scott poem so there are, I suppose, two sides to the question. I had to sit on my hands not to make a joke about the Klan Alpine. And, you know, I wouldn’t use swastikas in a production of Lakme at the Deutsche Oper.

      The gratuitous drinking just seemed entirely Scots to me. Have you noticed how Copenhagen productions also seem to have people hitting the booze? I think Siegfried and the Wanderer get through about half a case of Scotch in Holten’s production.

      Curran puzzles me a bit. He talks a good game but his productions always seem to end up looking like they came from Covent Garden c. 1960 (c.f. his Tosca at COC to be revived soon). He also seems almost incapable of getting his principals to act. Again, his Tosca had zero chemistry in that department. Sad really.

      • Hopefully there was at least a footnote in the Santa Fe/Met programs about how the Klan lifted the idea of cross burning from the Scott poem, what with the tradition of all the dead generations weighing like a nightmare on the brains of new Met productions n’ all.

        Anyway I gather (perhaps wrongly by now) that Curran lives in the US, so no doubt that discussion was had multiple times between Santa Fe and the Met.

    • an even worse ROH production (something I find hard to believe)

      eh, it wasn’t so bad. The confusing glass cupboards housing the main characters – who come ot life for the opera proper – were a bit pointless, but otherwise a straight forward “modern traditional” production.

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