on 18 August 2010
This recording appears to have been cobbled together from three live performances, or perhaps rehearsal(s) and live performance(s) on October 31, November 2 and November 4, 2006, at the Kursaal in Bad Wildbad, Germany, during the Rossini in Wildbad Festival.
Satisfactory 21st Century digital stereo. I know nothing about the Kursaal beyond what I hear on this set, but my purely subjective opinion is that its sound is bright but dry, and that it is of no great size. I have not studied the soundscape with any particular intensity--nor do I intend to do so--but if there are any stages noises, they must be very subtle, so subtle, in fact, that I find myself wondering whether the production was staged or offered in a concert version. The audience is remarkably silent, disclosing itself only during applause at more-or-less appropriate places. When it does turn up, it is pleasingly enthusiastic.
Elena (Sir Walter Scott's Ellen Douglas), the Lady of the Lake - Sonia Ganassi (mezzo-soprano)
Uberto (Scott's James Fitz-James), a hunter of knightly rank who is actually King James V of Scotland - Maxim Mironov (tenor)
Malcolm Graeme, Ellen's first love - Marianna Pizzolato (mezzo-soprano)
Rodrigo di Dhu (Scott's Roderick Dhu), fiery highland chief, laird of Clan Alpine, betrothed husband of Ellen and sworn enemy of King James - Ferdinand von Bothner (tenor)
Douglas d'Angus (Scott's outlawed uncle of the Earl of Angus), Ellen's father - Wojtek Gierlach (bass)
Albina, a lady of Douglas' household - Olga Peratyatko (soprano)
Serano, a retainer in Douglas' household - Stefan Cefolelli (tenor)
Albert Zedda with the SWR Radio Orchestra, the Tübingen Festival Band, and the Prague Chamber Choir.
The accompanying booklet proudly proclaims that this production is based on the "Critical edition by Fondaziones Rossini, edited by H. Colin Slim," so I suppose that this performance is complete and authoritative, at least until the next critical edition emerges from some scholarly backwater.
No libretto--although an Italian text is supposedly available at the Naxos website. Thumbnail biographies of the cast, conductor and orchestras. Brief essay on the opera and its music by conductor Alberto Zedda. Synopsis of the plot tied into the track listings.
"La donna del lago" premiered at Teatro San Carlo in Naples in 1819. It was the 29th opera composed by the then 27 year-old Rossini. It was based on a book-length poem, "The Lady of the Lake," by the hugely popular author, Sir Walter Scott. The early success of the opera ignited an operatic fad for setting Scott's works to music that would last at least until the days of Bizet, with the best-known and hardiest survivor of them all being Donizetti's evergreen "Lucia di Lammermoor."
The story of both the poem and the opera--which bears absolutely no connection with the tales of King Arthur, save for the title--deals with King James V of Scotland (1512-42) and his turbulent relations with his highland subjects. James, hardly one history's great monarchs, managed just one truly memorable feat during his short lifetime: he fathered Mary, Queen of Scots.
In both the poem and the opera, the king, masquerading as a simple lowland knight while hunting in the highlands, becomes enamored of a pretty girl who lives beside a lake. She turns out to be the daughter of Douglas, an enemy of the king. For purposes of political advantage, poor Ellen Douglas is soon betrothed to the formidable, if downright homicidal highland laird, Roderick Dhu, even though she loves young Malcolm Graeme. The poem and the opera tell much the same story, but the opera is compact and direct, concentrating on the love story, while the more sprawling poem emphasizes the heroic deeds of daring-do.
"La donna del lago" is an opera seria that enjoyed considerable international popularity for about generation following its premier. It then effectively disappeared until the bel canto revival of the late 1950s. At present, considering the number of alternate versions available right here on Amazon, it appears to be closing in on warhorse status. It is certainly easy enough to find high praise for it as a work of art, both here and elsewhere.
Purely as a matter of personal taste, I'm not quite so enthusiastic. I regard Rossini's style and characteristic techniques to be so exquisitely attuned to comedy that I find it dismaying to hear them applied to drama, as they are here.
Then there is the question of Rossini's invention. Every time I hear this opera, I come away with the feeling that the great man did a workmanlike job in setting the words--but no more. The lyrics often seem to me to be forced onto arbitrary tunes in a mechanical way, while the orchestral accompaniment seems uninspired--for Rossini, anyway. Clearly, others feel differently about these very subjective matters.
Sonia Genassi as lovely, sweet Elena and Ferdinand von Bothner as dramatic, fiery Rodrigo are young singers whose professional careers began after the turn of the 21st Century. Both are good and display considerable potential, although I find them still a bit generic at this stage of their careers. High-flying Uberto is sung by another young singer, the singularly un-Russian-sounding Maxim Mironov. He is anything but generic. I have seen him described in print as a "tenore di grazia." If that is so, he is the most strenuous--not necessarily "strained," mind you--such singer I've ever heard, a veritable Hans Hopf of a tenore di grazia! If you can abide, or better yet, enjoy Mironov, this performance is a great success, if not, it's unremarkable, or worse.
As for myself, I find Mironov impressive, although I am not yet quite sure whether I shall decide that he is impressively good or impressively awful. I think, however, that most listeners will have no trouble in classing him as impressively good.
"La donna del lago" will not be among my favorite operas any more than Mironov will be among my favorite tenors. Nevertheless, even second-rate (according to my idiosyncratic personal taste) Rossini is still Rossini and this young Mironov is ... impressive. That adds up to four stars, as far as I'm concerned.