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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Until Pollini’s Sony set returns, this new Naxos live recording reigns supreme for this opera, freely adapted from Scott’s novel The Lady of the Lake, and even if it were not in the budget range it would still be fully competitive. Zedda conducts with élan and his young cast make a splendid team. Sonia Ganassi is excellent in the title-role of Elena, and the pair of tenors, Maxim Mironov as Uberto and Fredinand von Bothmer as Rodrigo, are both most convincing. The duet between Uberto and Elena in Act I, Qualifaccenti!…a son sorpreso is one of the opera’s highlights; later, the duets between Elena and Malcolm (Marianna Pizzolato) are equally teling, as is Pizzolato’s spectacular earlier aria (Mura felici). The chorus and orchestra are first class, and there is some spectacular horn playing in the opera’s opening scene. The set comes with a god synopsis and is far preferable to Muti’s reissued Philips version, where the ensemble of chorus and orchestra, so successful with Zedda, is rough, and the principals coarse by comparison. The Naxos set is enjoyable on all counts, not least the excellent recording.

David L. Kirk
Fanfare, August 2008

If you have never heard La donna del lago and you like Rossini and bel canto opera, I invite you to give this Neapolitan score an audition. For one of Rossini's lesser-known works, La donna has the good fortune to be documented by several exceptional recordings. Add this new Naxos album to that list. Alberto Zedda conducts a taut, lively performance with a cast experienced in bel canto that sings with conviction, tossing off the runs and trills with ease, roulades everywhere, and punctuating the proceedings with some brilliant high notes. Right from the pastoral opening scene with the hunting horns in the distance, it's evident that this is an exciting evening in the theater. The proceedings are captured in excellent, clear sound before a silent audience (applause after certain numbers and at the ends of acts) and with performance noises (footsteps, scene shifting, etc.) nearly non-existent. This recording has all the benefits of a live performance with the sonic qualities of a studio-based endeavor.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, May 2008

I'll confess (and am surprised) that I have never heard this opera before. It is simply lovely, chock-full of beautiful arias and overflowing with the full complement of Rossini's audience-winning arsenal of dramatic recitatives, ensembles and choruses. I was also happy to re-encounter maestro Albert Zedda, a pioneer of the early LP era, when he was extremely popular. The performances are excellent, notwithstanding the fact that it was recorded live in Bad Wildbad.

American Record Guide, May 2008

Although it’s not well known, and parts of it were cobbled together quickly, La Donna del Lago is one of Rossini’s most tuneful and magically scored operas. Probably its formidable vocal difficulties have kept it out of the repertory.There aren’t that many tenors who want to sing high Ds on stage, and the two leading ladies (one in trousers) have many daunting florid passages. We’ve had few recordings of the whole opera, but two arias have taken on a life of their own: Malcolm’s ‘Mura Felici’ and— a sensation in its day—Elena’s ‘Tanti Affetti’.

The new Naxos is as good as any of the competition. Ganassi and Pizzolato not only sing fluent coloratura, but they also bring incisive Italian to their utterances. The tenors are nicely contrasted, Mironov suaver and softer I than Bothmer but just as dramatically persuasive. Zedda, who knows his Rossini, leads a thrilling, energetic performance, with crisp, clear ensembles and lovely pointing of instrumental details. Ganassi ends the opera with an unusually wistful account of ‘Tanti Affetti’, consistent with Zedda’s belief that the man she’s ending up with (Malcolm) is not really the man she wants (Uberto, actually James V of Scotland). The sound is superb, though there was no reason to include so much applause.

The old Sony recording with Ricciarelli and Valentini-Terrani is long gone, and so are the bootlegs with Caballé and Hamari and Von Stade and Home. Muti on Philips has a good cast (two spectacular tenors in Rockwell Blake tind Chris Merritt) but he banishes all high interpolations and drives the music rather hard.

Richard Osborne
Gramophone, April 2008

The lady may not be for turning into a stage hit but on disc she delights

Rossini wrote La donna del lago, a romantic tale of love and clan conflict set amid the lochs and mountains of Scotland in the reign of James V, for Naples in 1819, nine years after the publication of Sir Walter Scott’s narrative poem The Lady of the Lake. The fashion for Walter Scott operas began here; so arguably did Romantic opera itself. Weber was in awe of the piece, as was Wagner. The atmospheric use of the hunt at the start of Act 2 of Tristan and Isolde and parts of Act I of Die Walküre both hark back to the exquisite 35-minute opening sequence that begins La donna del lago.

Revival of interest in the opera began with the 1981 Pesaro production of H Cohn Slim’s new critical edition. Katia Ricciarelli sang Elena, Dalmacio Gonzales the King, Maurizo Pollini conducted. Since then, La donna del lago has been lucky on record, unlucky in the theatre, elusive to the touch of latter-day theatre directors who have either smothered the piece or, in the case of David Alden at last year’s Garsington Festival, turned it into a subset of the Billy Connolly show.

Of the four recordings to have appeared since 1981, the Pollini (CBS, 7/85 — nla) was the most stylish and the most exacting: a touch too exacting for some tastes. Muti’s 1992 Milan recording, with June Anderson and Rockwell Blake in the leading roles, is superb from just about every point of view. More recently, Opera Rara has given us a scrupulously presented transcript of a fine 2006 Edinburgh Festival concert performance.

The new Naxos set was also made live in 2006, in cooperation with the Rossini in Wildbad Festival. An excess of mid-act applause notwithstanding, it offers yet another distinguished account of the score. Key to the set’s success is the cast of rising young stars of the Rossini circuit which veteran conductor and Rossini editor Alberto Zedda, 80 this year, has assembled. Maxim Mironov, the Prince in Peter Hall’s celebrated Glyndebourne production of La Cenerentola, is memorable as the King and there are equally compelling performances by Sonia Ganassi, Marianna Pizzolato and Ferdinand von Bothmer. The set faces stiff competition from Philips’s budget-price reissue of the Mud but it is a more than useful addition to the La donna del lago discography.

Robert Hugill
MusicWeb International, March 2008

"Wildbad have managed to assemble four singers who cope brilliantly with Rossini’s requirements. If this super-budget priced disc tempts you to explore one of Rossini’s most fascinating operas then you will not be disappointed."

"Maxim Mironov... brings to the role a brilliant technique and a lovely fluency in the fioriture... executing roulades in a dazzling fashion."[...]

"Ferdinand von Bothmer as Rodrigo is inclined to be a little effortful at times but Rossini requires the singer to indulge in such outrageous vocal gymnastics that you must be amazed that anyone sings the part perfectly. [...]

"Marianna Pizzolato has a lovely dark voice and a beautiful line. Her way with the fioriture can be lovely....As Elena, Sonia Ganassi does make a touching heroine." [...]

"Alberto Zedda, in charge of the Wildbad forces and a noted Rossini authority, obviously loves the opera judging not only by his performance but also by his article in the CD booklet. Zedda keeps his forces under a reasonably tight rein. Though he does allow the music to relax where necessary, you can imagine a conductor who would allow a little more space in the performance. That said, the performance certainly does not feel driven and Zedda allows his singers a decent amount of leeway when performing Rossini’s vocal gymnastics. The SR Radio Orchestra Kaiserslautern play well for him."

Dominic McHugh, January 2008

"The high reputation of Naxos' delectable series of recordings of Rossini operas continues with this new release of La donna del lago. Many of the sets have featured conductor Alberto Zedda leading works of which he has an instinctive understanding. As evinced by the recent Opus Arte DVD of La pietra del paragone, Zedda has a grasp of both the stylistic issues facing those who perform Rossini and the inherent humour of the composer's scores, and he is the hero of this recording of La donna del lago. Like Maurizio Benini in the Opera Rara recording of the same piece, Zedda uses the new Critical Edition of the score edited by H. Colin Slim, but whereas Benini has better singers and players at his disposal, Zedda crafts a much more insightful account of the score. There is much more nuance within the phrases which Zedda creates than those of Benini; even the rustic choruses flanking the opening scene and the basic calls of hunting horns have greater inflection and verve in Zedda's hands. Benini's account is certainly very lively and exciting, but to hear Zedda conduct this music is to behold a master at work."

"Rossini's seventh opera for Naples is considered by some to signal the birth of Romantic opera. The choice of Sir Walter Scott's evocative The Lady of Lake for the plot was so successful that it sparked a series of other operas by Bellini, Donizetti and Bizet based on the same poet's works. The construction of the opera is highly unusual in many places and paved a way for both the looser construction and greater emotional focus of mid-Romantic opera. However, the beauty of the score is its most important asset: listen to any of the arias for the heroine Elena or the trouser role of Malcolm and you'll find Rossini at his best."

"Zedda's conducting of the SWR Radio Orchestra Kaiserslautern makes this a highly-recommended budget-priced release."

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2008

Rossini was twenty-seven when Walter Scott’s novel The Lady of the Lake was drawn to his attention, the Italian libretto prepared by Andrea Tottola keeping within the general framework of the story and includes a modicum of Scottish flavour. It is surprising that the eventual opera has not found a place in the standard repertoire, as it stands well above any of the composer’s other ‘serious’ stage works. It oozes with strong material, particularly in the choruses, the characters avoiding the cardboard cutouts that were the stock-in-trade of Italian opera houses at the time. It relates a triangular love story, where King Giacomo in disguise as Uberto falls in love with Elena - the lady of the lake - mistaking her words and believing his love is returned . Things take a turn for the worst when Uberto discovers Elena’s father is Douglas, a sworn enemy of the king. After some testing times, Uberto learns of her love for Malcolm, to whom she was referring when Uberto thought she was talking of him. The opera ends happily with the king forgiving all of the conspirators and Elena is free to marry her beloved Malcolm. The casting is unusual in having two mezzos in the leading roles of Elena and Malcolm, and it is the young Italian, Marianna Pizzolato who is the disc’s big discovery, her vocal acrobatics in her big second act aria, Ah! Si pera: ormai la morte greeted with applause that brings the opera to a halt. Much experienced in Italian opera houses, Sonia Ganassi, is a highly pleasurable Elena, her voiced well focused, of good intonation and nimble in the athletic passages that bring the opera to a close. The score also calls for a tenor who can reach into the stratospheres, and in today’s dearth of such singers we have to be thankful that the Russian, Maxim Mironov, makes such a plucky attempt at the role. He does have a typical wide Slav vibrato, but his Uberto never lacks for stamina and feels for the character he is portraying. The young Polish bass, Wojtek Gierlach, makes a suitably sonorous and aging Douglas, while the lesser parts have no weaknesses. Recorded ‘live’ - and it does retain interrupting applause - it comes in the Naxos series from the annual ‘Rossini in Wildbad Festival’ and is quite superior to anything we have had previously from this source. That is largely due to the very fine playing of the SWR Radio Orchestra under Alberto Zedda, and though I have not always been kind to the Polish Chamber Choir, here they are firm, resolute and fulsome. With well balanced sound this will admirably fill a gap in your Rossini collection.

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