At first sight, the allocation of roles to voice types in Rossini’s
La Donna del Lago is rather puzzling. The heroine Elena
(mezzo-soprano) is in love with Malcolm (mezzo-soprano), but her
father (bass) wants her to marry Rodrigo (tenor). Uberto (tenor)
is also in love with her but he is actually the King of Scotland
in disguise. The only soprano role is the small one of Albina.
To understand the
casting you have to know something of the opera’s history. It
was written for the San Carlo Theatre in Naples for which company
Rossini wrote quite a few operas. The heroine was written for
the soprano Isabella Colbran (also Rossini’s mistress). Colbran
was ageing and Rossini wrote parts for her which flattered her
good points. The tessitura is low for a soprano and her parts
often eschew elaborate fioriture, a fact which Rossini uses
to help characterise the role of Elena.
The two tenor parts
were originally written for tenors with very contrasting voices.
Rodrigo was first performed by Andrea Nozzari who had a rather
baritonal voice and who had sung the title role in the first
performance of Rossini’s Otello. Uberto was written for
Giovanni David, who had a higher, lighter voice than Nozzari
and who had sung the role of Rodrigo in Otello.
On this new recording,
from the Rossini in Wildbad Festival, the casting does not quite
reflect the original cast. Sonia Ganassi as Elena, is a mezzo
whose voice does not sound wildly different from that of Marianna
Pizzolato as Malcolm. Similarly two tenors Maxim Mironov (Uberto)
and Ferdinand von Bothmer (Rodrigo) are, to a certain extent,
possessed of contrasting voices but I would have liked a far
greater differentiation between them. I am not certain that
von Bothmer’s voice could be described as having baritonal elements.
A good example of the contrast required in the Nossari/David
parts is the casting in Jesus Lopez-Cobos’s account of Rossini’s
Otello in which Jose Carreras sang the title role and
Salvatore Fisichella sang Rodrigo. In that case the two tenors
have markedly differing voices which makes the vocal casting
The problem is finding
singers who can manage the fearsome roles in Rossini’s Neapolitan
operas. Opera companies have to be glad if they can cast the
pieces at all. This disc is based on live performances from
the Rossini in Wildbad Festival and I imagine that the current
cast worked very well in the opera house, where you have visual
clues to help differentiate the singers.
In fact, Wildbad
have managed to assemble four singers who cope brilliantly with
Rossini’s requirements. If this super-budget priced disc tempts
you to explore one of Rossini’s most fascinating operas then
you will not be disappointed. Granted though, that none of the
singers have quite the vocal sheen that the best interpreters
could bring to the roles.
Maxim Mironov certainly
does not have the vocal quality of Juan Diego Florez, but he
brings to the role a brilliant technique and a lovely fluency
in the fioriture. His voice is sometimes inclined to edginess,
though this may be the recording. However when he is executing
roulades in such a dazzling fashion then one is inclined to
von Bothmer as Rodrigo is inclined to be a little effortful
at times but Rossini requires the singer to indulge in such
outrageous vocal gymnastics that you must be amazed that anyone
sings the part perfectly.
I was slightly less
impressed with the women. Marianna Pizzolato has a lovely dark
voice and a beautiful line. Her way with the fioriture can be
lovely, though she is sometimes a bit heavy. As Elena, Sonia
Ganassi, sings with a noticeably lighter tone than Pizzolato,
but she has a rather darker voice than ideal. If I had to have
a mezzo in this role then let it be Joyce diDonato or Ann Murray.
It does not help that Ganassi’s vibrato rather compromises her
fioriture; she does not have as much centre to her voice as
Pizzolato. But, Ganassi does make a touching heroine and many
people will find her performance entirely acceptable.
As her father,
Douglas, Wojtek Gierlach is a little untidy, but he does not
let the show down.
La Donna del
Lago was the first opera to be based on one of Sir Walter
Scott’s works. Its opening scene, where Elena offers to row
Malcolm across the lake, is a wonderful evocation of one of
the great early Romantic moments. Rossini’s opera lies in a
fascinating hinterland, half-way to full blown Romantic opera.
Like Guillaume Tell, another opera in which depiction
of locale and the character’s interaction with it are important,
La Donna del Lago lacks any real love scenes, even though
the heroine is being pursued by at least three different characters.
The opera is full of emotions and passions, but not quite in
the obvious way you would expect. And Rossini goes a long way
towards creating the archetypal Romantic evocation of locale.
Alberto Zedda, in
charge of the Wildbad forces and a noted Rossini authority,
obviously loves the opera judging not only by his performance
but also by his article in the CD booklet. Zedda keeps his forces
under a reasonably tight rein. Though he does allow the music
to relax where necessary, you can imagine a conductor who would
allow a little more space in the performance. That said, the
performance certainly does not feel driven and Zedda allows
his singers a decent amount of leeway when performing Rossini’s
vocal gymnastics. Only in some of the big ensembles do the limitations
of live performance show. However Zedda’s direction is one which,
I think, rather minimises the Romantic aura and draws on the
affinities with early Rossinian opera. The SR Radio Orchestra
Kaiserslautern play well for him.
There is no libretto,
but there is a good, detailed track-by-track synopsis. The opera
is recorded live and contains quite a bit of applause. None
of it obscures the music, but you must be prepared for the more
bravura arias to receive extensive applause at their conclusion.
If I had a limitless
budget then I would buy one of the full price CD sets of this
work and if I owned one of these already, then I would not rush
out to buy this set. Like the Opera Rara recording, it uses
a good modern edition of the text. But at Naxos prices and on
just two discs, you can afford to experiment and this is a good
set with which to experiment.