Of all the confused, ludicrous plots in opera, this must surely be one of the most confusing. It is not helped by the fact that two tenors and a contralto (in a ‘trouser’ role) vie for the love of the heroine; one of the tenors is the king of Scotland in disguise; and a civil war is raging and the heroine’s father is one of those rebelling against the king. However, it provided a vehicle for some of the most spectacular displays of coloratura singing that it has ever been my good fortune to experience, as well as possibly the best orchestral accompanying I have ever heard.
Conductor Michele Mariotti’s musicianship drew the very best one could ask for from both the Met Orchestra and the remarkably brilliant cast. While we were almost ‘drowned in semiquavers, trills and roulades’, everything was magnificently phrased, with sensitive dynamics, and wonderful colours from both stage and orchestral pit.
While there were some things that left me unimpressed — the awful mock-tartan costumes of the Highland rebels, the poor make-up of the statuesque, wonderful contralto, Daniela Barcellona — there was so much perfection otherwise that none of these detracted from a truly magnificent display of bel canto singing.
Even the minor characters, Albina (Olga Makarina), Bertram (Gregory Schmidt), and Serano (Eduardo Valdes) were totally convincing. Of the main protagonists, Elena’s father, Duglas, sung by the bass, Oren Gradus, has the least spectacular vocal music but it was beautifully delivered.
He wants Elena (Joyce di Donato) to marry Rodrigo (John Osborne), and King James, disguised as Uberto (Juan Diego Flores) thinks that he has won her heart. The result is a confrontation between the two tenors and we heard a spectacular “battle of the High C’s” in the trio ‘Alla Ragion deh riada’. Di Donato, though, was the perfect Elena.
Her final aria, ‘Tanti affeti’ begun with quiet tenderness, proceeded to the most perfect display of vocal technique, — impeccably tuned, dazzling chromatic scales, arpeggios and trills — imaginable. This was truly unforgettable.
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