Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Let it Snow

April 06, 2007

Barry Banks as Uberto and cast from the Minnesota Opera presentation of the current NYCO production
Photo: Michal Daniel 2006
If the current new production of La donna del Lago is the best NYCO can come up with, they are in worse need for the services of Gerard Mortier than I could have imagined. Granted, the performance I saw was the next to last one in the run and fatigue could explain some of the problems, but others had deeper roots than that. As readers of this blog may know, I’m a big fan of anachronistic stagings. Change the story, alter the characters, even play with the music – it’s fine with me. However, there should be some point to it all. The problem and big question with this Lago is why? Why the rifles with bayonettes? Why is the set dominated by several crumbling brick walls? Where is the lake?

Of course the costumes didn’t help either in that many of the principles were indistinguishable. You see, in Scotland, Elena has three lovers - Malcolm, the young man she loves, sung here by Laura Vlasak Nolen; Rodrigo di dhu, her father’s choice; and Uberto, a stranger who is actually King James V of Scotland the enemy of everyone else. However, with Malcolm being a pants role and the wigs and costumes for Uberto and Rodrigo being so awful it often became hard to tell who was who. The evening often devolved into playing “which butch lesbian is in love with Elena now?” Of course there were some clues, every time Andrew Drost, who sang the role of Rodrigo on this evening, opened his mouth to sing, it became painfully obvious who he was.

The rest of the performances were serviceable, but far from great. George Manahan was the conductor, but it really seemed nobody's heart was in this as the music dragged along hour after hour. I know it’s popular to complain about the acoustics of the State Theater, but I don’t know if they’re so bad. I could easily here the whining of hearing aids and the laugh-inducing patter of the fake snow thudding against the stage in many scenes. I'm sure there are many charms to the serious operas of Rossini, but you wouldn't know it from this evening. Maybe next time around.

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