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Resonance Works – ‘Rossini’s La donna del lago’

Ensemble’s Performance of Operatic Rarity May Be Their Best to Date

By GEORGE B. PAROUS

This weekend Resonance Works gave two performances of Gioachino Rossini’s romantic rarity, La donna del lago at the Charity Randall Theatre in Oakland. If it were possible to produce it as it was Friday evening and yesterday afternoon, it might be heard more often. But it’s long, however beautiful, and it requires a large cast of first-rate singers in the leading roles, a powerful chorus and a strong orchestra, along with a conductor who feels the music. All these were on hand for the performances.

The opera has a curious performance history, in that its 1819 debut, at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples, it received a mixed reception, but it retained a spot on the rosters of several opera companies throughout Europe and South America until about 1860. It was even heard in New Orleans and New York during that period. Then it vanished for nearly a century, occasionally being revived from the late 1950’s on. But even at that, Resonance Works’ powerful revival was the first time the opera’s been heard in this country since the Met’s production in 2015.

Timothi Williams and Michael Scarcelle

Time and space won’t allow a complete rehash of the entire plot; the magnificent performance must be a top priority. Conductor Maria Sensi Sellner had quite a balancing act on her hands, but, as usual, she came through with flying colors. The orchestra played the beautiful – but too short – overture to the first act with precision, and the equally beautiful (longer) overture to the second act with the volume Ms. Sellner allowed to ring out. The singers were to the front of the instrumentalists in their long florid arias, but the balance between the two never blurred. But this is always the case when Ms. Sellner is at the podium, for she is a first class conductor.

Elena, “The Lady of the Lake,” was sung and acted by Timothi Wiliams. Where to begin with this young mezzo-soprano? Each time she appears in a new production, she seems five times more confident than in the last, and her voice five times more at her command, richer and fuller than the last, and more able to soar to places mezzos usually don’t go to with such ease. She acted the role with much sympathy and dazzled in Damian Dominguez’s costume designs. “Indulgences” were asked for tenor Javier Abreu, who as Uberto tries to woo Elena, but is actually King James. I’ve heard the gentleman sing on several other occasions, but never better than yesterday afternoon. He may have “saved” himself, or left out flourishes or certain high notes, but he gave a perfectly fine performance.

Javier Abreu

New to Resonance Works was another gifted mezz-soprano, Amanda Crider, as Elena’s true love, Malcom Graeme (a “pants role” – or “kilt role,” as several were overheard to comment, since the action takes place in Scotland, and Malcom does indeed wear a kilt). Ms. Crider acted and sang the role in a noble style, and seemed visibly moved when the good-sized audience let out a roar when she came out to acknowledge applause at the opera’s conclusion.

Amanda Crider

Wallis Lucas, as Albina, Elena’s companion, was another audience favorite. But truth be told, the cast was an all-round excellent one. It was good to see and hear again Michael Scarcelle, the intensely dramatic bass-baritone, as Douglas. He commands the stage with his voice and presence. Gene Stenger (Rodrigo), Donovan Elliot Smith (Serano), Andrew Bloomgarden (Bertram) and a powerful chorus completed a brilliant cast.

Special congratulations are due to the “behind the scenes” people. The costume designs, as mentioned, were marvelous. With the size of the venue, Eve Bandi, Gianni Downs, Eve Summer all made this production “pop”! And we’re sure Resonance Works has even better things coming up for 2024-25