John Belushi Lives in Kilted Comedy at the Met

I know these are not the flushest times at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, but when the piece is called “La Donna del Lago,” couldn’t we have both on stage? The lady and the lake?

Not at the Met last week, when the company presented Rossini’s masterpiecelet in a co-production first seen at the Santa Fe Opera, a summer venue.

What a dim little show.

Rossini’s 1819 opera takes its inspiration from a Romantic era poem by Sir Walter Scott, whose Highland dramas sent so many composers into kilt frenzies. This one takes place in the late 16th century during the political upheavals between the Highlanders and the supporters of James VI.

Stage directions call for lakeside encounters, dark forests, moors. The bel canto music glistens with cascading runs and odes to the rising sun.

The title’s Elena, a champion oarswoman, likes to row across the lake to meet local lad Malcolm, one of three suitors.

So what do you think? Would you think it possible to stage this opera with not even a little skiff, never mind a misty moor and a hint of water?

Can’t artists today make magic with slides and video, even on a budget?

Eastern Ukraine

Directed by Paul Curran with sets by Kevin Knight, the production featured a promontory backed by a wrinkled cyclorama. Loch Katrine remained unseen. Elena lives in a wreck of a house that could be in the wrong part of Ukraine.

Murk prevailed, periodically lifted by the dazzling singing of Joyce DiDonato, who spends the performance in a homely blue and beige dress.

Long gone from the repertoire -- this was the Met’s first-ever performance -- “Donna” has been drifting center stage in major cities all over the world, thanks in large part to DiDonato with her stupendous coloratura technique.

Elena is not the brightest blossom on the moor and a bit of a bore, but DiDonato’s charm shined across the stage. The most famous aria of the piece is Elena’s ear-dazzling final rondo, “Tanti Affetti.” She dispatched it with a smile.

By then, Elena and fate had worked out her romantic problems.

The amorous hunter turned out to be the unavailable King James, whose high arias were dispatched by Juan Diego Florez with his usual ironic stance and perfect technique.

The Two Tenors

The Peruvian had surprising competition from the other tenor of the evening, John Osborn, who sang with riveting ferocity as the doomed warrior, Rodrigo di Dhu. Osborn has come a long way since Fourth Jew in “Salome.” He was thrilling.

That left Malcolm, a part Rossini wrote for a woman, in the occasional “travesti” custom of the era. Really tall mezzo Daniela Barcellona has been singing the part for a decade now, and met most of the vocal challenges and no others. Swathed in acres of tartan cloth and an unflattering kilt that nearly reached her socks, the singer looked like John Belushi at the wrong party. A costume intervention is urgent!

“Donna” is needlessly epic. The first act ran 1 hour and 40 minutes -- as long as the finale of “Gotterdammerung,” a somewhat superior piece. A mile of 16th notes wouldn’t be missed. Fortunately, conductor Michele Mariotti kept a lively pace and the great Met chorus injected a happy bellicosity into Rossini’s wonderful crowd scenes.

More performances: Feb. 25, Feb. 28 (at 1 p.m.), March 3, March 7, March 10, March 14.

Scenes from this and other productions are available on YouTube.

Manuela Hoelterhoff is executive editor for Global Cities at Bloomberg News. Any opinions are her own.

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