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Swenson, Blythe Sing in ‘La Donna’

May 20, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) _ As well as Ruth Ann Swenson and Stephanie Blythe sang, the Opera Orchestra of New York failed to make a case for Rossini’s ``La Donna del Lago.″

The concert performance Eve Queler conducted at Carnegie Hall on Monday rarely came together, leaving the opera sounding more like a series of brilliant arias and set pieces than a flowing dramatic work.

That said, Blythe dominated the stage with a powerful, focused mezzo-soprano in the trousers role of Malcom, who is in love with Elena (Swenson). From her entrance in ``Mura felici″ (O happy walls″), Blythe portrayed a young man who wasn’t to be messed with.

Both excelled in Rossini’s coloratura runs. Swenson’s voice, after a few off notes, got stronger as the night went on, culminating in a richly sung ``Tanti affti″ (``So many emotions″), her aria in the final scene after she learns that she can marry Malcom.

``La Donna del Lago,″ adapted from Sir Walter Scott’s poem ``The Lady of the Lake,″ was among nine opera seria Rossini wrote in Naples. It is set in 16th century Scotland, where Elena is known as the lady of Lake Katrine. Her father, Duglas, has been exiled from the court and promised her to Rodrigo, a tribal chief. Giacomo (Rossini renamed the King James V character for the opera) meets her during a hunt, calling himself Uberto, and falls in love with her. As the second act unwinds, her father is taken captive and Uberto realizes Elena is in love with another. Uberto reveals he is the king, then pardons Elena’s father and her boyfriend.

The men were far less successful than the women, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Mario Zeffiri (Giacomo) and Bruce Fowler (Rodrigo) both displayed bright light tenors, but didn’t command. Both lost some tone when pushed and Zeffiri, a Greek tenor making his American debut, sounded out of gas by the end of ``Oh fiamma soave″ (``Oh, sweet fire″), his difficult, lengthy aria that opens the second act.

Bass Jason Grant didn’t sound up to the higher notes of Duglas, tenor Mauricio Trejo O’Reilly displayed a rounded voice in the small roles of Serano and Bertram, and soprano Lauren Skuce showed promised as Albina, Elena’s friend. The Coro Lirico, based in Morristown, N.J., sang the various highlanders.

Even with substantial cuts in the final scene, the performance dragged at times, with Queler unable to smooth it all together. Still, she gets together excellent casts to shed light on works that receive little attention in an opera age dominated by Verdi, Puccini, Mozart, Wagner and Strauss.

The OONY’s schedule for its 33rd season, announced Monday, has Donizetti’s ``Anna Bolena″ with Jennifer Larmore (Dec. 14), Verdi’s ``Il Coraro″ with Francisco Casanova (March 21, 2004) and Pochielli’s ``La Gioconda `` with Aprile Millo, Elena Obraztsova and Marcello Giordani (April 20, 2004).

On the Net:

http:www.oony.org

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