Gioachino Rossini: La donna del lago

Rossini Critical Edition

Edited by H Colin Smith (1990)

Two-volume score pp. XLVI, 952 + Banda sul Palco pp. 134 + critical commentary pp. 194
GR 09
Piano vocal score available
CP 133191

La donna del lago, the eighth of the ten opere serie Rossini wrote for Naples between 1815 and 1822, was performed for the first time at the Teatro San Carlo, 24 October 1819. Although announced for September, La donna del lago was ready only toward the end of October. The haste with which Rossini had to write an opera not originally scheduled justifies his having recourse to a collaborator. This latter was responsible not only for the accompanied recitatives (all but the Recitativo Dopo l’Introduzione and the Recitativo before the Cavatina Malcom), but also the Aria Duglas (N. 4). In the autograph of the opera all these pieces are in a single hand, and it is evident from revisions and corrections that they are composing scores and not copies.

The subject is taken from The Lady of the Lake, a poem in six cantos by Sir Walter Scott, published in 1810 and one of the most significant products of early English Romanticism. La donna del lago uses a very functional libretto by Andrea Leone Tottola: while adapting an English poem, Tottola certainly kept in mind the rampant fashion for Ossianic poetry, which had been popularized in Italy by the famous translation of Melchiorre Cesarotti, published in 1763. To this Ossian atmosphere the libretto owes several details that do not appear in Scott. Rossini’s opera, however, not only essentially inaugurated the vogue for Walter Scott in Italian and European musical theater, but powerfully affirmed the new romantic taste. Certainly La donna del lago, as much through its subject as through its music, also influenced the German theater, and Weber had the opportunity to know it a short while before he composed his Freischütz.

The autograph of La donna del lago is among those that the composer kept until his death and that passed to his widow and then to his native city. Today it is held by the Fondazione Rossini of Pesaro. It consists of two volumes that include the entire opera in its original version except for a few passages of the Recitativo Dopo il Coro (N. 12). Almost all the recitatives and the Aria Duglas are in the hand of an unknown collaborator. There are no other autograph sources for the successive interventions that Rossini made for the Neapolitan version of 1820 and for those of Paris in 1824 and 1825. A manuscript at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris seems to contain some interventions in the composer’s hand. These are musical emendations, vocal variants, and instructions for a copyist. Finally, there are three manuscripts in which Rossini entered vocal variants for the Rondò Elena – Finale: one in Forlì, a second in Milan and a third in Paris.

For the most part the ample manuscript tradition for La donna del lago agrees with the autograph. Given the richness and precision of the autograph, the help these copies offered in the preparation of this edition has been rather limited. Often, however, the copies give indications about performance practice or vocal variants. Only one printed full score of La donna del lago, that of Laffillé, was published before the critical edition: brought out in Paris in 1825, it reflects a performance at the Théâtre de l’Odéon, 31 October of that year but it has very little to do with Rossini’s original. The panorama offered by vocal scores is broad and varied. The best and most complete are those of Ricordi, who published two: one in 1826-27, the other in 1858. In Germany two vocal scores were brought out by Breitkopf & Härtel and an incomplete one by Cappi e Diabelli in Vienna. The curious aspect of these German vocal scores is the insertion of an inauthentic “Ouverture,” put together from material drawn from the Introduzione (N. 1). Still more peculiar is the fact that this “Ouverture” passed into the first vocal score of Ricordi, which was based at least in part on the Breitkopf edition. The most interesting and complex situation, however, is that of French vocal scores, which reflect in various ways changes made during Parisian performances of the opera.

La donna del lago was among the operas that would spread the custom of employing a stage band, which became of great importance during the entire first half of the century. Historical sources indicate how many players and which instruments were used in some authentic versions of La donna del lago, and various manuscripts of the period offer an orchestration surely faithful to that of the premiere and perhaps deriving from it. Even though this material is not by Rossini, it seems very important, and while the full score contains Rossini’s simple “guide,” a separate volume of the edition contains a realization of the band score, with the appropriate historic and critical apparatus.