White Shirt Monday: Double Bill Trill Thrill

[What’s better than a mezzo a pants (or kilts, as it were)? – A mezzo in pants getting the mezzo in skirts at the end! – And what’s even better than that? The mezzo in pants trumping not one, but two tenor romantic rivals in the process. Behold Joyce DiDonato (Elena) and Daniela Barcellona (Malcolm) in Rossini’s Sir Walter Scott stravaganza, “La donna del lago”, New York/MET 2015. – Photo Credit: screencaps from the HD telecast; click to enlarge]

As far as White Shirt operas go, “La donna del lago” should be an easy favorite: not one, but two mezzos, with some spectacular mezzo-on-mezzo love-duet-singing.

Fine, there’s a whole lot of tenor singing, too, indicative of the fact that the glorious (if much too short) era of the contralto musico (no more castrato, not yet the tenors: hot contraltos in pants ruled the stud stage) would already coming to a close in the 1840s, but it’s beautiful tenor singing, and in either case, the mezzo goes home with THE OTHER MEZZO. I don’t think there’s much repertory that can compare to that little twist.

It’s like Amneris hitting on Carmen, who then decides to settle down at Luxor. Or Rigoletto‘s Maddalena opening a shady demi-monde business with Ulrica of Un ballo in maschera (they will take on Oscar as a bellhop). Or Fricka dusting off her horns and deciding to take up shop in the souterrain with Erda, cooking potluck and practicing much more primordial beliefs.

Either way, back to Rossini. While the Paul Curran production, to me, was not that much to write home about (blue-painted pseudo-shamans? Really?) and I would have enjoyed a setting that was not “oh, ye olde Scotia, but streamlined”, there were still two points very much worth the watching:

1) The singing. Dear God, the singing. DiDonato and Barcellona and Flórez and Osborn, oh my.

2) Singers who can act being allowed to do their thing (while being set in more-or-less period decor wearing more-or-less period garb). Case in question: most of all, DiDonato. She can cut a very convincing Romeo (am I going to be over that any time soon? Nope. Not a chance.), but she can just as well sell the young girl in love who is simply swooning in the presence of her favorite Scottish warrior.

It’s an age-old adage that any butch is only ever going to look as butch as the femme at her side makes her look, and I was reminded of that during the grand mezzo-mezzo duet here: DiDonato turns Barcellona into a swashbucking hero with nothing but a blink of her eye, with the way her hand curls into a shirtfront, and with just the right tilt of her head.

There’s a shot sequence where she marvels how her hands fits into “his”, and it’s enough to raise the temperature in the house by a few degrees. Viewers of the telecast, you know what I mean (there’s till no YT leak, but I keep looking for a clip of the duet).

So here’s for the mezzo getting the mezzo, which is like having your White Shirt cake and eating it, too. And in the spirit of that, I could – of course – not settle for just one screencap, so have a few more:

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14 thoughts on “White Shirt Monday: Double Bill Trill Thrill”

  1. – Also, there’s that nice little dizzy smile and heaving breath thing that Barcellona adds in after the duet, just before turning around and walking offstage.
    Now I really want to see her Amneris, and how she positions that role against Rhadamès and against Aida in a production that does come with much of a concept (as in “where she would have the micro acting choices as long as she is standing on her mark”). And I think I need to check out her Adalgisa. Right now.

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      1. That is another great reason! (I will never be able to unsee this – is it the cheekbones?).
        – Is there “Casablanca, the Opera” yet? Sing it again, Sam…

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        1. cheekbones, eyes, mouth…well all I know is that somewhere in the middle of her soliloquy on the battleground I realized I was being spellbound (!) by Ingrid Bergman. And I did not mind at all, not at all.

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          1. Ingrid Bergmann on the battleground… that might just be the most lesbiam dreamboat setting since Garbo as Queen Christine.

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      2. Oh my g… YES! All through the Met “movie” performance I was racking my brain as to find the “real” person Barcellona reminded me of. Ingrid Bergman! Of course! Thank you towanda, thank you!
        And it is true: those eyebrows, that almost coy look in the eyes, and still passionately saying it all. Ahh.
        Bergman’s Jeanne d’Arc: harness yes, hair no(t like Barcellona’s).
        Garbo’s Queen Christina: everything yes, more than anything the grapes… 🙂

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    1. Oh yes, add that one to the list!
      (although regarding Didon (and Cassandre!) I am still kind of stuck on Westbroek and Antonacci).
      I’ve always had a soft spot for Barcellona, ever since that legendary red shirt-and-leggings Rancredi. Although she wasn’t my first Tancredi, that was Bernadette Manca di Nissa, who has some similarities, arguably, but her portrayal never clicked with me like Barcellona’s did (also, I was utterly distracted by Maria Bayo in that production).
      I find Barcellona very interesting in her acting choices in the classical contralto musico repertory, also in her artist persona (check the brief instances of interiew in the Donna del Lago telecast break) because she is much closer to the early nineteenth century singer type from these parts were written (more womanly, less boyish, for lack of a better description) and I think it makes for a compelling approach to both male and female slanted positions of power, through her singing and her stage presentation.

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  2. Very well said. She sings from strength; gender is merely an attribute. The 19th century found that a difficult notion. Time, perhaps, for revaluation of Rossini’s sexual politics.

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    1. But the early 19th century, at least in opera, did not mind so much and was still shaped by the castrati – where sound defined gender. And Rossini, up to his Petite messe solenelle, was always in the old-school singing corner, which also sets him somewhat apart from the other belcanto composers.

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