Here’s a welcome release! This recording of Rossini’s most romantic and in some senses pastoral opera, La donna del Lago, was recorded in tandem with some celebrated performances at the Rossini Festival in Pesaro, then a relatively new event. It is also a rare foray into conducting by pianist Maurizio Pollini. He acquits himself very well indeed, attuned to the genre and to Rossini’s often-striking orchestral palette, and extremely sympathetic to the singers. The sound is quite lean but when occasion demands there is bloom and atmosphere aplenty. Off-stage horns aside, felicities are often evident yet without them being spot-lit. La donna del Lago is something of a slow-burn piece in terms of drama; Pollini respects this and does not drive relentlessly (a fault that marred a later recording under Riccardo Muti).
There are two superb singers in the cast. Lucia Valentini-Terrani was the Rossini mezzo-soprano of her generation. Her lower register was always impressive and her coloratura singing always thrilling; and just as impressive in her restraint and the more affecting for it – and she captures the uncertainty of the young male hero Malcolm well. The other great is Samuel Ramey; every utterance makes one revel in the beauty of his voice and his fine technique.
Katia Ricciarelli is much admired for her Donizetti and Bellini interpretations and later in Puccini and Verdi. In all truthfulness she was probably not a natural Rossini artist, occasionally a little cautious and when in that mode her tone becomes a little woolly and unfocussed. Nonetheless, she knows what her rather placid character is about and she demonstrates why she had success playing other characters placed in impossible situations by the actions of fathers and lovers; she portrays innocence extraordinarily well.
With Juan Diego Flórez, Kenneth Tarver, Lawrence Brownlee, John Osborn and Michael Spyres (to name but a few) we live in an age of superb Rossini tenors. In the early-1980s this was less true. To find two singers to take on the astonishingly demanding tenor parts here must have been tricky. Dalmacio González and Dano Raffanti manage extremely well although both show signs of strain at times.
The Chorus and Orchestra perform with finesse and care, and La Donna del Lago emerges as a thoughtful if patchy work. This release is very welcome as a memento of some notable singers, although it is a shame that there is no libretto included, albeit it is a budget-price issue, and there is a synopsis.