I have said it before, but I have yet to leave a performance of anything involving Joyce DiDonato without a big silly grin on my face by the end. This performance resembled the one of La Cenerentola that I saw last spring, in that 1. It also involved Juan Diego “Watch how long I can hold this high note! And now I’m holding it even longer! Did you catch that? No? That’s ok, because I’m still doing it!” Florez and 2. JDD did the usual grin-making JDD thing in the opera’s final big number (here, “tanti affetti”). I enjoy her performances of Baroque material more than the bel-canto reperatoire, but hearing her voice go zooming around in all that ornamentation is still a pretty rip-roaring good time.
This is not an opera I know well. I’ve never seen it, and I’ve heard only the arias that tend to end up on recital programs, like the aforementioned “tanti affetti.” It is one of those 19th-century history-with-the-politics-taken-out operas – the story centers around a bunch of highlanders who are at war with James V of Scotland for reasons that are apparently unimportant; one of them, Ellen (Elena in Italian), is loved by both a highland chief named Rodrigo and this other guy who turns out to be James V; she prefers a mezzo named Malcolm, and it all turns out fine. I think Rodrigo dies, but that is probably not important either.
Two stray observations about the staging. One, I think they stole the patch of barren heath that represents Little Mankie or wherever the hell this takes place from their production of Parsifal. Either that or the Met has two big movable patches of grayish ground that can split open in the middle. Two, during the first act when everyone is cheerfully celebrating the betrothal of Elena and Rodrigo that they assume will soon take place, Elena has to just sort of stand there looking agitated and twisting her hands together for quite a while – from the cheap seats, the stage direction gives the impression that Elena definitely doesn’t want to marry Rodrigo, and that additionally she really really has to pee.
Finally, one unexpected bonus was mezzo Daniela Barcellona as Malcolm. She got overpowered by the orchestra now and then, but the solo moments, both early on and in Malcolm’s last aria in Act II were impressive – committed acting and some very smooth and well-executed Rossini singing.