10 December 2015

A Brand-New Rossini Opera at the Met

Rossini’s La Donna del Lago returns to the Metropolitan Opera Friday night. Joyce DiDonato once again stars in Paul Curran’s production, which had its premiere at Santa Fe in 2013 before moving to the Met (with a different backdrop) last February. Tenor Lawrence Brownlee, Joyce’s “Giacomo, disguised as Uberto” from Santa Fe, rejoins her in the same role. We are guaranteed an evening of spectacular singing and glorious music that, as Joyce has observed in an interview, respects the story’s “emotional truth.”

However, after multiple viewings of this opera, it’s not the emotions but the underlying story that I find less compelling than I did, say, the first time around. At last, I have decided to heed the advice of Rossini’s biggest fan, Stendhal: I shall pretend that I speak no Italian, and I shall invent my own plot for this opera.

Stendhal: Don’t say he didn’t warn us.

La DiDonato del Lago, ossia
Great Scozia


Act I, Scene 1: The scene opens on Loch Kansas, where a chorus of townsfolk greets a new day that will bring the most exciting football game of the year. Ardena Scozia, a glamorous opera star, returns to her hometown by means of a boat that is conveniently left offstage. She sings of her love for Malcolm, her long-ago boyfriend, who is currently the general director of the Loch Kansas Opera Company. Unbeknownst to Ardena, this evening’s football game will pit the local team, the Pittsburgh Picts, against their deadly rivals, the Glasgow Grizzlies. The quarterback of the Grizzlies, Giacomo, has disguised himself as “Uberto,” an itinerant salsa dancer, in hopes of meeting the beautiful singer. She invites him back to her home for a cup of heather.

Act I, Scene 2: Giacomo is shocked to learn that Ardena’s father is Duglas, the former coach of the Glasgow Grizzlies, who is now coaching the Picts. He also learns of Ardena’s betrothal to Rodrigo, the Picts quarterback. Unbeknownst to any of them, Ardena is still in love with Malcolm, despite the fact that he is transitioning to contralto repertory. After Duglas has left, Malcolm invites Ardena to the football game.

Act I, Scene 3: Picts fans prepare for the football game by applying body paint in the team colors, blue and more blue. Ardena supervises. Malcolm declares his support for the team, but unfortunately it’s the wrong one (Aria: “Go, Go, Grizzlies!”), and Ardena’s friends mistrust him. The stadium lights are turned on, signaling that the game is about to begin.

Pep rally.

Act II, Scene 1: Still disguised as “Uberto,” Giacomo searches desperately for Ardena, because only she has the coin needed for the toss that will begin the football game. Once again he declares his love for her, but she tells him she could never love any man who doesn’t wear a skirt. He then gives her a ring, which he claims he won for playing at a Super Bowl, many years ago. Rodrigo has overheard their conversation and recognizes Giacomo’s true identity. Rodrigo commands his teammates to sack Giacomo, but Ardena, who is also the referee, calls a time out.

Act II, Scene 2: The game is incredibly violent, and in its aftermath Ardena is dismayed to see that the heads of losing players have been placed on pikes all over the field. She vows to find the NFL Commissioner, to complain.

Act II, Scene 3: Ardena is surprised to find all of the NFL Commissioners surrounding “Uberto,” who soon reveals his true identity. He tells Duglas and Malcolm that Bertram, the top draft pick, will be the Picts’ new quarterback, replacing Rodrigo, who has been sidelined for the rest of the season due to a severe head injury (on a pike). Malcolm admits that she’s a woman, and on hearing this news, Ardena joyously flings herself (Highland style, of course) into a live volcano. All rejoice, as a new peace reigns in Kansas.


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