Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

The Devil, Greed, War, and Simple Goodness: Ostrčil’s Jack’s Kingdom

Here is a little-known opera that, like an opera by the Swedish composer Laci Boldemann that I have reviewed here, and like Ravel’s amazing L’enfant et les sortilèges, utterly bypasses the usual categories of comic and grand/tragic by cultivating instead the rich realm of fantasy and folk tale.

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

Maria Callas: Tosca 1964: A film by Holger Preusse

When I reviewed Tosca at Covent Garden in January this year for Opera Today, Maria Callas’s 1964 Royal Opera House performance was still fresh in my mind. This is a recording I have grown up with and which, despite its flaws, is one of the greatest operatic statements - a glorious production which Zeffirelli finally agreed to staging, etched in gothic black and white film (albeit just Act II), with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, if not always as vocally commanding as they once were, acting out their roles like no one has before, or since.

Hubert Parry and the birth of English Song

British music would not be where it is today without the influence of Charles Hubert Parry. His large choral and orchestral works are well known, and his Jerusalem is almost the national anthem. But in the centenary of his death, we can re-appraise his role in the birth of modern British song.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

Schubert's Winterreise is almost certainly the most performed Lieder cycle in the repertoire. Thousands of performances and hundreds of recordings ! But Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout's recording for Harmonia Mundi is proof of concept that the better the music the more it lends itself to re-discovery and endless revelation.

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

New recording of the English version of Bohuslav Martinů's The Epic of Gilgamesh, from Supraphon, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck. This is the world premiere recording of the text in English, the original language in which it was written.

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

The new recording, from Munich, has features in common with one from Stuttgart that I greatly enjoyed and reviewed here: the singers are all native French-speakers, the orchestra is associated with a German radio channel, we are hearing an actual performance (or in this case an edited version from several performances, in April 2016), and the recording is released by the orchestra itself or its institutional parent.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour”.

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

I had never heard of Stefano Secco before receiving this CD. But I see that, at age 34, he already has had a substantial career, singing major roles at important houses throughout Europe and, while I was not paying attention, occasionally in the US.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni
22 Apr 2006

MOZART: Don Giovanni

Calixto Bieito has made his name as an opera director with productions of unrelenting violence and sex, perhaps exemplified by last year's Abduction from the Seraglio in Berlin with its full nudity and graphic mutilations.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni

Wojtek Drabowicz, Regina Schorg, Veronique Gens, Kwanchul Youn, Orchestra Academy of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Chamber Choir of the Palau de la Musica Catalana, Bertrand de Billy, conductor

Opus Arte OA 0921 D [DVD]

$41.38  Click to buy

In almost any other area of American life this reputation would make him a candidate for fame and success, but opera in the US has other ideas, and so none of Bieito's productions has made it to our shores.

Now one has — on DVD, a career breakthrough version of Don Giovanni premiered at English National Opera.This performance comes from December 2002 at the Liceu in Barcelona.

Bieito updates the story to recent times, in some sort of rough, middle-class, vaguely criminal neighborhood. After an urgent, even explosive overture under the baton of Bertrand de Billy, Leporello crawls out of a late model black Mercedes sedan, in the backseat of which the Don is energetically pounding Donna Anna. Clad in a tacky track-suit, Leporello (the excellent Kwanchul Youn) sings of his resentment of his "master," who in Bieito's vision is not of a hereditary nobility, but rather a good-looking, well-built thug whose sexual power gives him all the power that a title would have in da Ponte's day. Unsurprisingly, Bieito goes for the "Donna Anna wanted it" angle, but in the context of the director's misanthropic vision, this makes sense for once. Regina Schorg, unattractively dressed in a too-tight leopard-skin skirt and low-cut top, doesn't have a voice of such beauty as to remind us of the supposed nobility of her character, and so the portrayal works well. As for Wojtek Drabowicz's Don Giovanni, he has the look, and a capable voice, but that aura of true sexual charisma eludes him. He is mean enough, however, as he takes a screwdriver to slash open the Commendatore,who, in an open shirt and ostentatious gold necklaces, looks like a character from The Sopranos. Anatoly Kocherga needs some more heft down low for this role, especially in the final scene.

Veronique Gens delivers the most brilliant performance, as a truly broken Donna Elvira, clad in unappealing denim and carrying tacky plastic shopping bags. Gens manages to make her character deranged and yet still sympathetic, and her exemplary singing plays a big role in that achievement. The Zerilina and Masetto (Marisa Martins and Felipe Bou) are less-distinguished vocally, but strong actors. Probably in no other production has "Batti, batti" not only made more sense, but been absolutely essential.

Finally, Bieito and costume designer Merce Paloma confront Don Ottavio's wimpishness with a master stroke — from the end of act one on, he wears a Superman T-shirt with sculptured muscles, emphasizing his wimpishness. Since this is the Prague version, Marcel Reijans has no "Dalla sua pace," but as he is at best a pleasant tenor, the loss doesn't sting.

Alfons Flores's set design consists of a basic black box, with key props (a long bar, pool table, sofa and TV). Bieito knows how to create vivid stage pictures with well-coordinated movement and imaginative details (those tiny dancing dolls!). Some directors barely have one thing happening at a time; Bieito has several, yet he mostly has the action timed so well that the distraction element is low.

So Bieito's theatrical skills should not be disregarded. For many, however, the sex and violence — although milder here than reports of his latest productions suggests — will be too much to allow for appreciation of the director's talent. When the Don attempts to rape Zerlina, she winds up with a bloody nose that drenches her nightgown. The Don, disguised as Leporello, smashes Masetto's head into the bar, and soon Zerilna's boyfriend is covered in blood as well. And in a final twist, the Don breaks free of the Commendatore's grip at the end, takes up a knife and resumes slashing the poor old man. Finally the "victorious" revenger's tie the Don to a chair and use the knife on him, each getting his or her turn (though Donna Elvira has to be manipulated into giving the killing stroke).

As for sex, after that opening hump-a-thon, Bieito mostly lays on the oral action. Despite the shock value here, it also seems as if Bieito sees oral sex as an act of self-abasement, and thus a crucial part of his dark, cynical view of human relations.

Mozart's score works surprisingly well in this setting with so little "giocoso." Of course the darker textures come to predominate, but even the lighter moments, such as the aforementioned "Batti, batti," have a contextual rightness. Conductor de Billy's urgent reading certainly deserves much credit here, but Bieito has obviously given the music as much thought as he has to when he can next insert some oral favors into the action. For instance, the Don sings his second act serenade alone, on the phone, trying for a "hook-up," and at the end he starts to sob — a lonely man who doesn't have the courage to change.

Not all viewers will find that moment effective, but the second act defeats many a director, as the story goes into neutral until the big climax. Several years on from its premiere, Bieito's Don Giovanni may not be as shocking as it was at it premiere, but probably many an unwary viewer of this DVD will end up turning it off in a fury and using the discs for coasters, while others will find Mozart and da Ponte's opera more alive and exciting than ever. No matter how many sins Bieito may commit, he avoids the worst of all — he is not dull.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):