From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, Santa Fe – Part IV

by Jonathan Pell

Although I had heard it in concert several years ago, until last night I had never seen a staged performance of Rossini’s “opera seria” (as opposed to his more celebrated comic operas) LA DONNA DEL LAGO, based on Sir Walter Scott’s THE LADY OF THE LAKE.

To be perfectly honest, I have never been much of a fan of Scott’s historical romances (I could barely get through IVANHOE when I had to read it in school) but this turgid novel seems to have inspired Rossini to write some of his most glorious music.

The production in Santa Fe was mounted to showcase a dazzling Joyce DiDonato in the title role, and she was sensational.  Not only did she sing superbly, she was actually able to make us care about the fate of her character because of her extraordinary skills as an actress.

Dallas audiences will have the opportunity to hear her for themselves when she opens the 2015 Dallas Opera season in Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s new opera GREAT SCOTT, commissioned by The Dallas Opera.

Mr. Heggie happened to be at last night’s performance, and will no doubt be inspired himself to write some of his finest music for this extraordinary singer.

This was by no means just a star vehicle (although Miss DiDonato’s stunning performance of “Tanti affetti” at the end of the evening would have been reason enough to attend the performance) but the production also boasted impressive performances by tenors Lawrence Brownlee and Rene Barbera, as well as a Sicilian mezzo named Marianna Pizzolato, previously unknown to me.

Miss Pizzolato’s voice isn’t particularly large but what she can do with subtle dynamic shadings within the vocal line, and her control of seemingly endless breath, was very impressive.

There are never very many tenors in any generation who can sing the demanding “coloratura” (or runs of fast notes) demanded by Rossini’s music, but of the few who excel at this today, none have the sweetness of timbre of Lawrence Brownlee.  He was simply amazing as “King James” (in disguise, of course, as a commoner known as “Uberto.”)

The other leading tenor role, sung by Mr. Barbera (a native of San Antonio) has a much brighter sound, and was a wonderful contrast with Mr. Brownlee.  Loyal readers of these reports will probably remember my mentioning Mr. Barbera from a couple of years ago when I heard him in Chicago in the supporting role of “Arturo” in LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR (another “bel canto” opera based on a novel by Sir Walter Scott) and he has now grown into an important leading singer with engagements around the world.  Bravo !

Conductor Stephen Lord (who conducted LA RONDINE in Dallas several years ago) infused the evening with energy and style but knew exactly when and how to indulge his marvelous cast.  This was an object lesson in how to conduct “bel canto” opera.

In a small role, second year apprentice tenor Joshua Dennis from McKinney, Texas (who stood out in one of the scenes in last summer’s Apprentice Concert) again made a strong impression.

All in all, another wonderful night at the Santa Fe Opera.

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