Saturday, June 12, 2010

La donna del lago: excellent singers in a godawful production

La donna del lago,  Opéra Garnier, Paris, June 11 2010

Roberto Abbado    Conductor
Lluís Pasqual    

Juan Diego Florez 
Giacomo V (Uberto di Snowdon)
Simon Orfila 
Duglas d’Angus
Colin Lee 
Rodrigo di Dhu
Joyce DiDonato  
Daniela Barcellona 
Malcolm Groeme
Diana Axentii 
Jason Bridges 

It was a final dress rehearsal which essentially means a pre-premiere: the entire show is presented as if it was a premiere -- with sets and costumes, and each singer singing in full voice... As expected, the singers were excellent, but the production... oh boy!  Lluis Pasqual must be some kind of Giancarlo Del Monaco in disguise.  It's hard to imagine more obsolete, uninspiring or even offensive (to whoever likes theater!) way to produce an opera.

But, first about good stuff: Jooooyce shows once again that she is really a magnificent singer. Her Elena sounds even better than on CD. I thought this role could have a few parts that are too high for her and that she would have to push beyond her comfort zone -- but not at all! She  must be at her lifetime's best right now as it's hard to imagine to sing any better than this.  With each new live performance we get to listen to her, I have a feeling her voice got more mature, more dexterous, and --above all-- more beautiful.
She sang this same role in Geneva last month and with all the experience accumulated there, she now sounds absolutely glorious. In short: Joyce DiDonato rulz.

Joyce DiDonato

Daniela Barcellona had a tough task too. This role must be one of the toughest to sing for a mezzo: as if the whole palette of belcanto colors was concentrated in her two big arias. With her flexible voice, a great sense to properly project it, her experience to carve the depth of Malcolm's character by her forti and piani,  she most definitely did justice to Rossini and to this role. Brava!

Joyce DiDonato and Daniela Barcellona

I believe, in this opera, Rossini was the least kind to a singer who's supposed to sing the role of Rodrigo. Only Meyerbeer would compose such an extreme 'incantabile' roller-coaster. Colin Lee's gravi are admittedly not as broad and voluminous as the rest of his impressively agile voice, but boy can that man sing! His appearance simply kicked in more life on the stage. It's lively, it's voluminous, it's dexterous to make the crowd listen to him in awe -- simply awesome! 

Colin Lee

Juan Diego Florez is of course on his turf: It's Rossini, it's the vocal firework and we're blessed to have a singer like him  [even when he doesn't steal the show like it is the case here ;) ]. 

Juan Diego Florez and Joyce DiDonato

The cast is definitely homogeneous --other singers are very good too-- and the overall quality level of singing is super-duper-high.

And yet..., and yet you don't feel that elation in the crowd neither during nor after the show -- like it was the case with a starry belcanto opera in Paris two years ago.  There was nothing close to that bliss we felt in the Robert Carsen's production of I Capuleti e I Montecchi with Anna Netrebko, Joyce DiDonato and Matthew Polenzani. Why? I believe it's because of the heavy sets, heavy-fugly costumes, weak lights on the scene [90% of the time it's darkish], and certainly because of the poor direction of actors, i.e. absence of theater/drama.

Lluis Pasqual said in an interview that this production would  be homage to belcanto, but what he achieved, in my humble opinion, is precisely the opposite.

Colin Lee and Joyce DiDonato

What he [Pasqual] did is what any other director with a dramatically difficult libretto in hands --and with no any clear idea how to handle it-- would do: he immersed the story in an old/obsolete theater in which the protagonists perform a belcanto opera in a correspondingly obsolete production, surrounded by shabby sets, and wearing kitschy costumes. In the end of Act-1 and Act-2 there are also huge lusters, pointlessly descending from above the stage,  just to make the whole spectacle more grotesque.

The set you can see in the first pic above is that oval structure which opens and closes several times during the show, and if you add a little play with lights, you get practically all there is in this show scenewise. In the background (1st pic above) you can see that crack in the wall which should suggest that we're in an old-old, well very old, theater (Bwaaooohoo!). Here is one pic in which you can see another background option: a huge shabby fabric with a lake and mountains painted on it (LOL), just like in provincial theaters in the 50's:

Is there ANYTHING good about this staging? Let me be nice and say yes, there is - one thing: a few dancers would enter the stage during each musical intermezzo, in costumes similar to those worn by the opera's main characters, to tell the story about Elena in their own way -- dancing. Apart from that, all dramatic action is scenically inexistent. The singers move slowly across the stage, only to stand and sing in a way you can see in atrocious DVD's filmed at the Met in the 60's: they open/close hands, sit on a box (or plastic rocks) which pneumatically emerge at the center of the stage, and that's it... You cannot be serious and do this in 2010!

The chorus would occasionally show up, and --aligned as if they celebrated president's birthday in North Korea-- they would just stand, sing and then disappear.

I hope you can now understand why I said this cannot be homage to belcanto opera. It's its caricature,  emphasizing its "bad taste" only.

Christof Loy, last month in Geneva, demonstrated how La donna del lago can be scenically revitalized, while Lluis Pasqual basically suggests it's scenically hopeless, outdated and you should just enjoy listening to beautiful voices [which is essentially what the detractors of belcanto operas keep saying for years, and why more and more belcanto operas are presented in concert versions only.]

My main problem with that attitude is a complete incongruence with the very definition of théâtre lyrique? Where did the theatrical/dramatic side go?

I am sure the belcanto fans will be more than happy to see all these wonderful singers singers perform (and maestro Roberto Abbado too!)  Other than that, let's hope the production from Geneva gets released on DVD.


YT video by thecellticspirit


  1. Nice review, OC!

    Also, will you be attending any of next week's performances of 'Pelleas et Melisande' at the Opera Comique ?

  2. Thanks. Of course I will. Hopefully I'll get to see the premiere. Cheers :)

  3. Any news on a possible broadcast anywhere with this amazing cast?? Florez and Lee, hurlig high C at each other, is surely something not to be missed! LOL


  4. Hey, that's a fantastic idea. Let's sell Nicolas Joel to North Korea, he could do a great job there!

  5. I've seen great Lluís Pasqual's productions but lately it seems his productions are uninspired, what a pity...

  6. GO COLIN!!!!!!!!

  7. Hi AliceP. In the program it's only written that the France Musique radio will broadcast the show sometimes in July (will try to find out and will post the info here). Cheers

    Rameau :) With this Joel makes a full circle and what he does IMHO is atrocious waste of public money. Since you cannot quantify the size of the horror of his taste, you have to cope with what you've got and hope after 3 more seasons someone decent will come to replace him...

    Mei, I want to believe Pasqual did some fine work in the past. I saw his Don Giovanni which was not bad but not exactly good ether (just compare it to Bieito's!) But this is really beyond salvation on every possible level (except vocal!) You'll see :)

  8. thanks for the great presentation
    I am a fan of Joyce DiDonato

  9. Sorry to disagree. But the arrival of Nicolas Joël is a reelief after the horrors of Mortier's reign in Paris. He premeired several unknown works in Paris and this is already a feast (Tote Stadt - glorious!)
    I saw the striked peformance of "Donna del Lago" in semi-scenic presentation with just the backdrop and the costumes. Fabulous singing - like with Cuberli, Valentine-Terrani, Blake and Merritt in the Chatelet concert performance some 20 years ago. But - what the hell - Tottola (who was not a DaPonte, nor a Metastasio!) made out of corny Walter Scott story a corny libretto. You just try to get it over the stage in the least corny way.

  10. Well Will we will have to agree to disagree. You may wish to check out the Christof Loy's production of this opera just a couple of months before its Paris premiere directed by Pasqual to catch my drift.

    Under Nicolas Joël, Paris Opera is falling to its history lowest artistic point. It's a mixture of old fashion, bad taste and a total lack of creativity. So you see how we disagree, which is fine :)

  11. I love the performance from Pesaro 2001.Mariella Devia and Juan Diego Flores were DELICIOUS!!! BRILLIANT performance by all. I wake up in the middle of the night already singing the trio from 2nd act