One of Rossini's greatest Neapolitan operas, "La Donna del Lago" is rarely performed due to its demanding vocal writing--not surprisingly, La Scala's glorious production is graced by some of today's finest bel canto singer... more »s. Conductor Riccardo Muti brilliantly emphasizes the work's dramatic plot, beautiful melodic ideas and touches of local color. Staged by the famous film director Werner Herzog (Fitzcarraldo) and distinguished by extraordinary performances, Rossini's difficult masterpiece receives the genius it demands and the magic it deserves.« less
"I was quite pleased with this production, though unfamiliar with it, so this was my only exposure. While I can't compare it to other recordings, I was impressed with the music, the wonderful singing, and the outstanding (foreboding) sets, especially June Anderson's arrival by boat--very convincing. My only criticism was that it occasionally had the "stand-and-deliver" approach (though not as much as Muti's William Tell), and thus I think it could have benefited by more attention to acting, but I assume this is the director's fault. Nonetheless, this Rossini gem is is quite theatrical and enjoyable."
Unfortunate visual "concept"
Heather Hadlock | Palo Alto, CA United States | 10/16/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I agree with the content of the two previous reviews, particularly about the DARK production and the static "stand and deliver" style. However, I don't share the conclusion that the production overcomes these handicaps. The visual/acting dimensions really bring this DVD down.
The music of "La donna del lago" evokes lively, richly colored stage pictures. There are echo effects; the musical illusion of sounds coming from far to near, or bouncing across the hills; double-chorus numbers; antiphonal hunting horns, etc. The shepherds and the hunters should be visually differentiated, as should the groups of warriors. Their costumes should define their social roles. And they're supposed to be moving around in the opening scene - heading out to the fields and forests. Instead Herzog gives us ragged lines of people in shapeless, ragged clothes. They shuffle on, sing for an inexplicably long time, and shuffle off.
The decision to leave the women's chorus onstage during Elena and Uberto's long duet also makes NO sense...why would these two carry on an intimate conversation in front of a squad of listeners?
Elena (June Anderson) and Malcolm (Martine Dupuy) are the only ones with flattering/appropriate costumes (and some might quarrel with Malcolm's "mountain lion" headress... I liked its golden color and the way it disguised Dupuy's feminine head). Uberto (Rockwell Blake) is saddled with a hat made of a whole dead bird. Rodrigo (Chris Merritt) is draped in an enormous dark pink bedsheet, totally unflattering and about as unheroic as you can imagine. His headband and goatee are bad too. Yes, he's huge... all the more reason for the costumer to give his clothes some structure.
You would never guess that the action is supposed to be taking place in the 16th century... the costumes and architecture are closer to Stone Age. Maybe Herzog wanted to avoid a sentimental "picturesque" approach, but this dark, prehistoric "crags and caves" aesthetic is totally out of sync with the music. The static and uninspired stage pictures make the music seem overlong, repetitious, and boring. In all, a disservice to a lovely opera that deserves a lovely treatment."
A bel canto gem
Noam Eitan | Brooklyn, NY United States | 11/12/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This DVD would appeal mainly to a selected group of bel canto enthusiasts who lose sleep at night trying get rare recordings of rare operas from the bel canto repertoire. The audio from this performance circulated for a while (on the Philips label) and was difficult to find; this issue is therefore a treasure from that perspective. It represents one of the peaks of the bel canto revival movement of the past 20 years. The vast expansion of the bel canto repertoire and the revival of Rossini's lesser known works enabled the best singers of the new generation to specialize and develop their vocal talents to the point that some of them surpassed their distinguished predecessors - Callas, Sutherland, Caballé, Sills. June Anderson has been a major force in the bel canto revival. She often shared the stage with Blake, Merritt, and other bel canto tenors. This is the only commercially available document of such a performance. These Rossini coloratura roles are extremely taxing. The tenor roles in particular constitute a professional health hazard with their impossibly cruel high tessitura. Rossini's writing for the male voices is such that the whole performance turns into a dangerous athletic enterprise, where the suspense is not only centered around "is he going to make it to the next note?" but also "will his voice survive this evening?". It is a testament to the singers' training and good health that none of them was carried from the stage on a stretcher. A less visible hero of this performance is the conductor Riccardo Muti. Albert Innaurato wrote in his article titled "INSIDE LA SCALA: TEMPLE OF MUSIC OR TEMPLE OF DOOM?" in Opera News magazine, July 1999: `Riccardo Muti is the world's most publicly detested conductor. In her book Cinderella and Company, Manuela Hoelterhoff calls him "the famously short maestro of fear".' IMHO he is one of the century's greatest conductors and could have reached Toscanini's fame had he not tied the knot with La Scala's lion's den. It would be a cliché to call him a "Rossini scholar": he conducts this opera with sensitivity, discipline and just the right amount of vigor without distorting Rossini's simple and linear composition style by underlining crescendos or changes in rhythm excessively to achieve a crowd pleasing effect.Herzog's stage evokes Walter Scott's northern romantic atmosphere to which he adds some Gothic accents. His set designer uses huge fantasia-like sets with immense stalactites coming down from nowhere and the whole scenery changing in concentric circles - best appreciated in fast forward. The fairy-tale element that seems to be Herzog's forte reaches its smashing climax at the finale, in the throne room scene. So what's the problem? The stage is so dark you can hardly see the details, and that is on top of the usual problems with the La Scala re-issues (because of problems with getting the rights, in large measure because of region coding, the Image releases have rights only to the previous LaserDisc masters with titles, not to the source material without). It was unfortunately in vogue at the time to use dimly lit scenery for "dark" subjects. This trend reverberated in some MET productions including the last "Ring" (despite the wonderful music the darkness beckoned me to sweet sleep at both the Rheingold and Die Walküre earlier this year. This silliness has to stop, you can't sit for hours in semi-darkness past dinnertime without falling asleep to the lullaby coming from the stage). The audio is good (obviously not as good as the new 5.1 Dolby surround DVD's). This DVD is gradually becoming difficult to get."
Dramatic production, beautifully sung and conducted
C. Harbison | Montague, MA United States | 06/22/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Werner Herzog clearly loves dark operatic gestures. This production brings many characteristic Herzog touches to something that might not immediately seem to be his interest--the stylized and elegant music of Rossini. But he and Muti bring it all alive in a way that is totally involving and convincing. Dark, craggy cliffs, caves and a final throne room complete with stalactites predominate--green seems to have been banished from the production but an evocative combination of reds and oranges brings life where needed. It's hard to imagine five better principles--Anderson is light and ethereal, Dupuy agile, the tenors (Blake and Merritt) voraciously compete for top honors, and Surjan is strong as well. The orchestral sound is sharp, well detailed and lively. Altogether a highly effective performance of a romantic drama."
Great music - some great singing
figaro | Eugene, OR United States | 10/20/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I was tempted to give this one 4 stars but in all honesty, this opera really is lacking in good drama. However, I am very glad I got this dvd. What the opera is lacking in drama, it makes up for in wonderful music. I noticed one reviewer saying they only watched the first half a couple times and all three male singers were awful. I couldn't disagree more. Rockwell Blake sings King James V. He was the first tenor in our times to really make this character his own. He is an elegant-looking man with wonderful fioratura abilities. To stop half-way through the video is the greatist shame, because at the beginning of Act 2, Blake sings the aria, 'O fiamma soave...', and it is absolutely perfect, and the Scala audience shows their appreciation. This is definitely the highlight of the opera in my opinion. Chris Merritt, the other tenor, is also an accomplished Rossini tenor, but I didn't find him quite on his mark here - the most annoying thing I found about his singing is a marked change in voice quality in the upper register. He goes from a somewhat heroic sound in the lower register to an annoying nasality on top, which I did not notice when listening to him on other recordings. Martine Dupuy is very enjoyable as Malcolm. She has a rich mezzo with reasonably smooth fioratura. I found June Anderson just a bit dull, because I prefer a meatier soprano or even another mezzo in this role but her singing is quite smooth here as always. The baritone isn't the best, but luckily he only has one big aria. The sets by the famous movie-maker, Werner Herzog, are very intriguing."