I finally got to a Live at the Met this Saturday*
This one: http://www.metopera.org/opera/la-donna-del-lago-rossini-tickets [If the link dies at the end of the season: LA DONNA DEL LAGO by Rossini]
In the first place it was fabulous. I’m enormously glad I went. The singing from the four principals was AMAZING.**
In the second place, however, it’s way up there on the silly scale—not quite ERNANI but close. REALLY SILLY PLOT. REALLY REALLY SILLY. REALLY. SILLY. I also felt the translation was more cack-handed than was strictly required.*** We want to know what’s going on, we don’t necessarily want the exquisitely precise rendering of the Italian, which word choice may have more to do with how it sings rather than whether it makes any sense at all as something anyone might ever say, even two hundred years ago in a Walter Scott novel. †
In the third place, it’s all about Joyce Di Donato’s breasts.
I admit I wasn’t expecting this last. I’m fine with the fact that she has breasts, but I wasn’t expecting them to be Triumphant Before Everything, aka Beware the Bustier.†† I suppose the designer/costumer might be trying to make sure we know that Di Donato is the girl, since her boyfriend is played by another mezzo soprano†††, and the boyfriend is, furthermore, in a kilt, which is perhaps not the best choice for a girl playing a trouser role. I mean a kilt role. It turns out that the entire Highland army—you got it that this is Sir Walter Scott, yes?—is in kilts, but you haven’t taken this in yet when Malcolm first strides on stage/screen and starts mooning over Elena. Even knowing that Malcolm is going to be a mezzo the urge to giggle is powerful when she appears in a kilt. It took me about four bars into her, um, his, um, her first aria however to become her drooling slave and beyond that I couldn’t care less. ‡
But I get ahead of myself. The first bloke we see on stage is Juan Diego Florez ‡ in really icky plastic leather.‡‡ He’s the king, who has allowed himself to be distracted from stamping the crap out of the Highland rebels by tales of a mysterious beauty, whom he has disguised himself to get a glimpse of. I mean, you don’t expect to see your king in plastic leathers, do you? Elena is picking plastic‡‡‡ heather in another one of production/design’s curious choices for stage business. She, for some reason, thinks he needs help§ and offers to take him home with her. That loud bang you just heard was plot credibility exploding. HONEY. YOU’RE OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE WITH A MAN YOU’VE NEVER MET BEFORE§§ WHO IS, FURTHERMORE, SHOWING SIGNS OF FINDING YOU HOT §§§. I THINK YOU MIGHT AT LEAST MENTION THAT YOU LIVE WITH YOUR DAD, AND THAT A CHORUS’ WORTH OF HENCHPERSONS IS JUST OVER THAT PAPIER MACHE HILL. I think. The operatic geography remains a trifle underexplained. Because the show is called The Lady of the Lake~ there has to be a lake, which our heroine rows across every day, apparently, to gather plastic heather and have random encounters with gleaming-eyed strangers. After that, beyond a throwaway reference to taking the current random stranger back to the shore~~ the characters just hop around from set piece to set piece. Special non-points are awarded for Elena’s cottage, which is a small roof on two walls, like a capital letter ‘E’ stood on its front with the central bar removed, plonked down in the middle of the stage, and through which the henchpersons/chorus eventually swirl, and to give themselves something to do, set up some banqueting tables out back. Hope it doesn’t rain.~~~
I was regularly distracted from all the nonsense by the sheer glory of the music. I like Rossini, I like bel canto, and I’m now passionately in love with not one but two mezzos.= But this is one of those evenings when I came away thinking, It does not have to be this daft. It does not have to be this daft. It’s hard to do a lot of acting when you’re a girl in a trouser role dressed in a kilt, the king is mainly required to flounce variously, which is fortunately one of Florez’ skills, the superfluous tenor has nothing to do, poor man, but stomp about looking heroic== and be spurned by his affianced bride, who wants to marry the other mezzo. But Di Donato is a really effective actress, and watching her creating small shining bits of sense within all the doolally is almost worse than if she’d been a student of the Leontyne Price school.&
Let’s also just take a moment to contemplate the character of the king. Okay, he falls for Elena big time in that insta-whammy way popular in both opera and Hollywood romcom. He’s the king. What is he planning to offer this small-time laird’s daughter, before or after he finds out she’s one of the revolting scum raising arms against him? I kinda doubt it’s anything her dad would recognise as honourable, even if her dad weren’t a member of the revolting scum. And this is an era when the male relatives get to dispose of the bodies of the females, you know? And when the short hero she doesn’t want to marry objects to her clear loathing of him, her dad tries to play it off as virginal modesty. Uh huh.
But the king is supposed to be a good guy. Well, I think. I think he’s supposed to be being a good guy when he leaves the battle to go hunt up Elena and give her a ring that he says, rolling his eyes theatrically, if she shows to the king he will be merciful and give her safe passage to somewhere or other. Tahiti. Guam. But there’s this hilarious exchange between them when he’s trying to go for her again&& and she says No no no! I’m in love with the other mezzo! And he replies, in what I feel is not wholly inexplicable bewilderment, Well, why didn’t you discourage my ardour when you took me HOME WITH YOU the other day? Well, yes. Although possibly because she’d only set eyes on him half an hour ago and she was wrapped in a sweet naïve mist of Scottish hospitality and concentrating on her rowing. Oh, and she’s already in love with the mezzo named Malcolm. But I repeat . . . what exactly is the king of Scotland OFFERING her? A big fat dowry to cover up the fact that she may be pregnant when he pats her on the . . . head and sends her on her way again?
I’d forgive either the story or the staging a lot if the last scene weren’t quite so determinedly demented. So, the rebels have been crushed absolutely, the (short) heroic rebel tenor has been conveniently killed, and Elena, with the safe-passage ring&&& has gone up to the palace to try begging for the life of her dad and her beloved. And she meets the bloke she last saw in plastic leathers now all decked out in white and gilt and she says, oh, hi, I’m here to see the king, um, I have this ring that this random guy gave me . . . um, you gave me. You’ll see the king, the random guy says. Grandly.% So now we have languours of daftitude while the court all processes in and does galliard-y type things around Florez, who stands there looking like a stuffed prat, while poor Di Donato has to go on and on and on and on and on NOT GETTING IT. She doesn’t get to get it till one of the courtiers plonks a frelling crown on Florez’ head.
Okay, whatever. Cue general rejoicing. The king pardons both dad and Malcolm and is apparently not requiring them to emigrate to Tahiti or Guam, which is very nice of him, and proves that he is supposed to be a good guy. And if he draws Malcom aside later and mutters something about droit de seigneur, it doesn’t happen till after the curtain comes down.
I’m glad I went! The music was spectacular and my head is still full of it!%% I just wish—um—I just wish—um!
. . . And if not writing regular blogs causes me to write three thousand words when I finally get around to it again, even under the extreme provocation of an opera to rant about, I’d better rethink. Um. Again.
* * *
* How Christianity Ruins Your Life. My Saturday evenings are now dedicated to sitting in the dark with monks. The thing is that I want to sit in the dark with monks, but I miss my Live at the Mets.^ I have not figured this out yet. ^^ There are slowly more live opera broadcasts at your friendly neighbourhood cinemas but the New York City Met is my opera company and they broadcast to the distant punters on Saturday afternoons in New York, which is Saturday evening sitting in the dark with monks time in Hampshire, England. Also, most cinema web sites are possessed by demons. For example, apparently the ROH^^^ is streaming a Guillaume Tell which I would love to attend and THEORETICALLY it’s coming to my cinema but my cinema’s web site won’t discuss it. ARRRRRRGH. And since it’s a chain, you can’t get a local on the phone—and because something is coming to the chain, that does not mean it is coming to all the individual theatres belonging to that chain. ARRRRRRRRRGH.
^ Including the prosecco and knitting in the interval. There’s no reason I couldn’t do prosecco and knitting at home, I just don’t. Way too self-indulgent somehow. Because of course I am never self indulgent. Ever. About anything.+
+ Choooooooocolate. Also how many books in the TBR pile(s)? And we’re not even going to mention yarn. # Or All Stars. ##
# Or for that matter furry four-legged creatures of the night.~ Some people would consider three of these somewhat self-indulgent. Personally I just call it dangerously insane.
~ Although the ‘of the night’ part is kind of my fault. I go to bed late.
## I had to THROW OUT A PAIR OF PINK ONES recently. I’m still in mourning. But the amount of water they were letting through the holes in the soles was getting kind of extreme.
^^ I have told Alfrick that they should lay on more silent sitting-in-the-dark contemplative services. Only one a week seems, you know, careless. Unprofessional. For a bunch of monks.
^^^ Royal Opera House. Which is one of my problems. The ROH tend to be up-themselves scum-sucking banderglizzards. When I first moved over here a quarter century ago and was bouncing all over the landscape with JOY at the prospect of two, count ’em, TWO, world-class opera houses only a little over an hour away+, my heart was quickly won by the English National Opera, which was the other one, both because it was CHEAPER++ and because they hired real human beings who answered phones and personned the front of house if you wandered in off the street and who were nice. The ROH hired scum-sucking banderglizzards. And, guys, in today’s economy, including twenty-five years’ ago economy, you can’t afford not to take the money of vulgar Americans who want to buy full-price+++ seats and you should behave accordingly. Vulgar Americans don’t necessarily think brass-balled rudeness in a British accent is charming. Some of those memories linger. Although the memory of going to The Huguenots at the ROH on what I think was my first birthday in England, with Peter in a dinner jacket and me in green velvet, also rather lingers. I’m not sure what Peter has done with his dinner jacket but I still have the green velvet.
Anyway. The ROH does beam some of its screenings down here to the one cinema within my driving range, but the ENO does not. Yet. I hope they’re planning to cast their webby net wider soon.
+ Especially the way Peter used to thunder up the motorway when he and Wolfgang were a lot younger.
++ And before any ROH supporters tell me, with lashings of dudgeon, that the ROH offers cheap seats too, it didn’t use to. And I’m only taking it on faith that you can actually hear and/or see anything from the cheap seats.
** I admit I didn’t think the supporting-role baritone was quite up to the standard set by the two tenors and two mezzo-sopranos, but that may be the sheer physical facts of a low voice emerging from a human voice box. Are there coloratura baritones? I don’t know.
*** But I think I’m losing my grip on the whole translation question as a result of struggling with the Bible. There are a lot of WHAT? moments about the Bible anyway and groping hastily for some other translation usually only makes it worse.
† What is it with opera composers and Sir Walter Scott? Surely they could have got their silly from a wider range of sources?
†† That’s bust-ee-ay as in corset, not bust-ee-er as in possessing more bust.
††† And as the off-duty operatic soprano doing the backstage introduction to us nonpresent audience drones finished her plot synopsis by saying: and so the mezzo gets the mezzo, and tough luck to the two tenors.^
^ Note that this opera has a HAPPY ENDING. YAAAAAAAAY. Mind you this happy ending requires the killing-off of the awkward superfluous tenor, but hey. He starts breathing again in time for the curtain calls.
‡ Her name is Daniela Barcellona. And it’s just as well she doesn’t have an enormous back catalogue or I’d be taking out a bank loan.
Just for the record, they kiss. Which I like to think is another blow for irrelevant-detail-blind staging.^ Like the Oscar Wilde play—I can’t even remember which one—I saw in London about twenty years ago where the actor playing the female lead was black: which I’m afraid is the first time I’d seen historical-drama colour-blind anywhere but Shakespeare. Yessssss. But while Wilde plays don’t call for black actors and Malcolm in DONNA DEL LAGO is written for a mezzo, Di Donato and Barcellona’s duet that the kiss is at the end of is so frelling ravishing you’ve probably forgotten everything but ohmygodohmygodohmygod, and also, Barcellona is TALL, so she can do the male-swagger thing, including the looming protectively over the girl, pretty well. Better, in fact, than most tenors, who tend to be bandy-legged midgets. Barcellona towered over both of last night’s tenors. Just by the way.
^ Maybe Rossini was thinking about gay sex really. But the story on stage is het.
‡ Who is a SHORT TENOR. Di Donato, who doesn’t look very tall herself, was in flats. Florez’ boots had substantial heels on them. But he is a bloke.
‡‡ Or if it was real leather, the Met needs a new buyer.
‡‡‡ I perceive a pattern. Not in a good way.
§ HE’S IN PLASTIC LEATHERS. IF HE WERE A GOOD GUY HE’D BE WEARING A KILT.
§§ WHO IS WEARING PLASTIC LEATHER.
§§§ I know you’re a legendary beauty and all, but the bustier is not really supportive^ of the modest Scottish virgin thing. And while Florez does the overheated Latin^^ lover persona very well the character he’s playing in this case would be forgiven for the thought bubble appearing over his head saying NOBODY TOLD ME THE LEGENDARY BEAUTY IS FAST.
^^ He looks about as Scottish as Barcellona looks like a bloke. I can deal with this. The plastic leathers must go.
~ Um, why? The Lady of the Lake as an Arthurian trope has been around a long time, and Scott must have known Malory’s Arthur? Surely? Or is there some Arthurian resonance in the Scott novel that I’ve forgotten?^ And if Rossini’s librettist cut it out why didn’t they CHANGE THE TITLE?
^ I read shedloads of frelling Scott at various times in my misspent youth, but in my memory, never my best feature, the stories have all mooshed together in one gargantuan wodge of forsoothly, studded with hopelessly wet, floppy heroines. Don’t Rebecca me. She only looks good in comparison.
~~ And leaving him there? What?
~~~ It’s the Scottish Highlands. IT NEVER RAINS THERE. NOOOOOOO.
= The tenors are fine. And I’ve been a fan of Florez for a long time. But . . . give me one of those mezzos. Please.^
^ I am of course Giving Up Singing Forever again. Had a voice lesson today. . . . No, no, this blog post is already reader-numbingly too long.
== which is harder still when you’re the shortest person on the stage. Pav is taller than this bloke.
& Stand Like Fence Post, Wave Arms and Sing. I adored Price and have a lot of her recordings but she was not an actress.
&& Nothing like a little rumpy-pumpy to soothe those battlefield nerves.
&&& I mean, how much can you trust someone wearing plastic leathers?
% Trying not to take a cheap shot here. But grandly is not Florez’ metier.
%% To the extreme detriment of my own singing. Sigh. Why didn’t I take up the xylophone?
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