Rossini (La) Donna del Lago
Rossini wrote La donna del lago, a romantic tale of love and clan conflict set amid the lochs and mountains of Scotland in the reign of James V, for Naples in 1819, nine years after the publication of Sir Walter Scott's narrative poem The Lady of the Lake. The fashion for Walter Scott operas began here; so arguably did Romantic opera itself. Weber was in awe of the piece, as was Wagner. The atmospheric use of the hunt at the start of Act 2 of Tristan und Isolde and parts of Act 1 of Die Walküre both hark back to the exquisite 35_minute opening sequence that begins La donna del lago.
Revival of interest in the opera began with the 1981 Pesaro production of H Colin Slim's new critical edition. Katia Ricciarelli sang Elena, Dalmacio Gonzales the King, Maurizo Pollini conducted. Since then, La donna del lago has been lucky on record, unlucky in the theatre, elusive to the touch of latter-day theatre directors who have either smothered the piece or, in the case of David Alden at last year's Garsington Festival, turned it into a subset of the Billy Connolly show.
Of the four recordings to have appeared since 1981, the Pollini (CBS, 7/85 - nla) was the most stylish and the most exacting: a touch too exacting for some tastes. Muti's 1992 Milan recording, with June Anderson and Rockwell Blake in the leading roles, is superb from just about every point of view. More recently, Opera Rara has given us a scrupulously presented transcript of a fine 2006 Edinburgh Festival concert performance.
The new Naxos set was also made live in 2006, in cooperation with the Rossini in Wildbad Festival. An excess of mid-act applause notwithstanding, it offers yet another distinguished account of the score. Key to the set's success is the cast of rising young stars of the Rossini circuit which veteran conductor and Rossini editor Alberto Zedda, 80 this year, has assembled. Maxim Mironov, the Prince in Peter Hall's celebrated Glyndebourne production of La Cenerentola, is memorable as the King and there are equally compelling performances by Sonia Ganassi, Marianna Pizzolato and Ferdinand von Bothmer. The set faces stiff competition from Philips's budget-price reissue of the Muti but it is a more than useful addition to the La donna del lago discography.