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From the first note in the overture to the standing ovation at the end, Santa Fe Opera’s opening performance of Gioachino Rossini’s La Donna del Lago was outstanding. The story for this opera comes from Sir Walter Scott’s narrative poem The Lady of the Lake. Rossini composed this piece for singers with great breath control, beautiful phrasing and agility; those characteristics are present in abundant quantities in this production.
Joyce DiDonato is absolutely stunning. Every aspect of her performance has depth and character, and she brings an underlying sense of innocence to Elena that makes her appealing. She makes her ornaments sound easy and her brilliant, lyrical voice never sounds fatigued, even after hours of singing. The audience loved DiDonato, and it is easy to understand why.
Marianna Pizzolato, as Malcom, Elena’s true love, is also astonishing. As with many operas, there are areas of this storyline that can be a bit unclear, but the chemistry between Pizzolato and DiDonato makes it apparent who Elena’s true love is. Pizzolato’s dark, rich voice might initially fool a person into thinking it might be heavier, or less flexible than some of the other voices in the production; however, when the time comes to move, her voice is incredibly nimble and perfectly focused and resonant from the top of her impressive range to the very lowest note. Pizzolato received a massive amount of applause and she deserved every minute.
Lawrence Brownlee gives a solid performance as Giacomo V, King James of Scotland, who disguises himself as Uberto, then falls in love with Elena. His tenor voice is full and flexible and he has a nice spin on his high notes, keeping them lined up with the rest of his range. He has good chemistry with Elena, as does her third suitor, Rodrigo, portrayed by tenor René Barbera, who has a great deal of resonance even in the lowest parts of his range. Barbera’s voice pairs well with Brownlee’s, which is great when they are (vocally) dueling in the second act. These two have incredibly solid technique and it is enjoyable to hear their onstage fighting.
Duglas, Elena’s father, is skillfully portrayed by Wayne Tigges. His bass voice is rich and well suited to this role, and his acting is wonderful. His facial expressions give nuance to what could have been a one-dimensional character.
The orchestra is, as usual, superb, and it is delightful to hear more from members of the orchestra that don’t always stand out. The woodwinds get to shine in this piece, and their conductor, Stephen Lord, is delightfully sensitive to the score, keeping the dynamics and tempi in the pit and onstage appropriate at all times.
La Donna del Lago is not to be missed, for opera lovers, as well as first-timers, who are curious. This production is full of the craftsmanship and attention to detail that audiences have come to expect from Santa Fe, along with gorgeous music, singers with strength and chemistry, and a skilled orchestra and conductor.