Barbara and I saw this Rossini opera at the Met on 2/25. I haven’t seen too much Rossini but have enjoyed what I’ve seen - - plus this production featured two singers I love, Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Flórez. I think I understand why this opera isn’t done very often - - the story isn’t very well constructed. Barbara and I had a hard time keeping track of who was on which side of the war, who was after the leading lady and why, all those little things that make a story intelligible. Eventually we just rolled with it. Lots of beautiful music and beautiful singing, but it can be a while before I hear another descending chromatic scale. I think we heard about five of those over the course of the show, and that’s about four too many. A little of that goes a long way.
DiDonato is the go-to gal for these lyric mezzo bel canto roles. She sings with great dexterity, verbal acuity, and vocal color. Plus she has a winning presence onstage. I’ll say all those same things about Flórez, and will add that his voice has gained richness and body since I first heard him seven years ago, without losing any of his ability in the fioritura (the quick little notes). They’re both peerless singers, and it was luxury casting to have them in the same show.
The other female lead was sung by Daniela Barcellona, playing DiDonato’s boyfriend. This happens a lot in opera, having a woman play a man - - it’s typically called a “pants role”, but in this case she was wearing a kilt. Her voice has a lovely, ripe sound which kicks into gear when she sings fioritura, but her voice loses its focus when she sings declamatory passages. It’s not that she was singing sharp or flat, it was more that her pitch wasn’t clear, you couldn’t quite tell what pitch she was singing. This is a problem.
Baritone Oren Gradus played DiDonato’s father. He was a little woofy but got the job done. John Osborn played the other tenor lead, a character who didn’t seem to have much of a purpose for being there, besides being a blowhard and singing some high notes. Whatever.
But the real star of the show was my friend Greg Schmidt, making his Met debut! Here’s the full story: there I was on the A train, coming home from work, reading Opera News. They had a one-page summary of *La D del L* and I looked through the cast list to see who was in the show, and there was Gregory Schmidt. Oh my Lord, could it be THAT Gregory Schmidt, star tenor from University of Wisconsin-Madison Concert Choir in the late 80s? Turns out it is. He’s been singing leads at smaller opera companies and covering roles at the Met and other larger opera companies, and this is the first time he’s been given at role at the Met.
I confirmed with Kathy the Mezzo that this is indeed THAT Gregory Schmidt (she did) and wrote him a letter (on actual paper) care of the Met. He emailed me immediately and we set up a plan to meet in his dressing room after the show. He felt he needed to give me full disclosure: he only has two lines, it’s not a big deal. I wrote him that there are a thousand tenors who would give their left nut for two lines at the Met, and it IS a big deal.
He played a servant to the king (the Flórez character). He sounded great in his two lines, but more importantly was onstage for quite a while and looked spectacular in his gorgeous gold brocade costume. It was such a thrill to see him onstage at the Met. I had a nice visit with him after the show, heard all about his experience in this production. He’s covering the role of the blowhard guy, and is coming back next December when they do the show again.