Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

Gerald Barry's The Intelligence Park at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

Walk for 10 minutes or so due north of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and you come to Brunswick Square, home to the Foundling Museum which was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for children lost but lucky.

O19’s Phat Philly Phantasy

It is hard to imagine a more animated, engaging, and musically accomplished night at the Academy of Music than with Opera Philadelphia’s winning new staging of The Love for Three Oranges.

Agrippina: Barrie Kosky brings farce and frolics to the ROH

She makes a virtue of her deceit, her own accusers come to her defence, and her crime brings her reward. Agrippina - great-granddaughter of Augustus Caesar, sister of Caligula, wife of Emperor Claudius - might seem to offer those present-day politicians hungry for power an object lesson in how to satisfy their ambition.

Billy Budd in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera’s Billy Budd confirms once again that Britten’s reworking of Melville’s novella is among the great masterpieces of the repertory. It boasted an exemplary cast in an exemplary production, and enlightened conducting.

Dear Marie Stopes: a thought-provoking chamber opera

“To remove the misery of slave motherhood and the curse of unwanted children, and to secure that every baby is loved before it is born.”

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Ina Schlingensiepen and Berhard Berchtold
18 Nov 2007

Karlsruhe‘s Don Gets Down

The Badisches Staatstheater seems to have borrowed with a vengeance the catch-phrase from John Waters’ recent “A Dirty Shame,” namely: “Let’s go sexin’!” I can’t recall ever seeing a “Don Giovanni” with more lip-locks, grinding torsos, leg-wraps, and groping embraces.

W. A. Mozart: Don Giovanni
Badisches Staatstheater, Karlsruhe

Above: Ina Schlingensiepen (Donna Anna) and Berhard Berchtold (Don Ottavio)

All photos courtesy of Badisches Staatstheater, Karlsruhe

 

And happily, unlike Waters’ film, this production scored all the right points for compelling dramatic relevancy.

The world’s most famous libertine (pace, Bill Clinton) is after all a sexual compulsive in need of a Twelve Step Program. Director Robert Tannenbaum has chosen to place heavy (though not heavy-handed) emphasis on the title character’s wanton and unfulfilling abuses of his prodigious sexual powers. Mr. Tannenbaum can always be counted on for a fresh and inventive, yet honest interpretation. True, he can perpetrate the odd moment here and there that doesn’t quite click; but mostly I find that he excels at telling the story, presenting the character relationships that the authors created, and staying out of the way of the music.

Indeed, the only character in this modern dress, minimalist production that is not presented as a sexually active being with a gnawing appetite, is the “Commendatore” The “Don” first appears in pantomime during the overture, disguised as a cleric who seduces “Anna” from her evening prayers in the chapel. She capitulates to his attentions quite willingly and is soon pinned against the wall, writhing in increasingly pleasurable foreplay until interrupted by daddy.

“Elvira” is presented as compulsive about all things: she reveals, and consumes a chocolate cake during “Mi tradi”; tipples wine immodestly from a bottle through much of the rest; and lengthily swaps some serious spit with a “Leporello” who appears quite happy to have his tonsils cleaned by his master’s sloppy seconds.

“Ottavio,” usually a cipher, was here a troubled divinity student who was very receptive to having an intimacy-starved “Anna” remove his Roman collar, and tear his cassock open to nuzzle his heaving bare chest during the allegro section of “Non mi dir.”

And the young and shallow Love Couple, “Zerlina” and “Masetto,” (mis-)behave like feckless horny wedding peasants from Nutley, New Jersey sporting the best polyester wedding apparel that money can rent. His coral prom tuxedo with ruffled shirt was just one of the many witty and telling costumes by Ute Fruehling.

Peter Werner’s wholly effective modern setting consisted of a series of high walls joined at disparate angles, creating a central hallway of sorts, mounted on a turntable, and trimmed in with walls as matching legs. The neutral textured ecru was an ideal surface upon which to project endless lines of countless names of “Giovanni’s” conquests, the image varying in intensity and legibility from scene to scene. No one was credited with the wonderful lighting design which alternately used isolated areas and spotlights, and mood- enhancing washes with excellent results.

Giovanni5.pngDiana Tomsche (Zerlina), Mika Kares (Masetto), Konstantin Gorny (Don Giovanni), Christina Niessen (Donna Elvira), Ina Schlingensiepen (Donna Anna) and Bernhard Berchtold (Don Ottavio) [Photo: Jacqueline Krause-Burberg]

The whole scenic structure rotated and spun with judicious directorial thought and attention. Only once did it seem to create unwanted dead space while we waited for a new positioning. In fact, the set facilitated many successful groupings and offered opportunities for meaningful dramatic reinforcement, none more so than the attempted party rape of “Zerlina.” The deed itself was happening on stage right with the roiling mob stage left, all the while separated from each other by a jutting piece of wall that came right to the stage’s edge. This was undoubtedly the most chilling and suspenseful staging of this moment I have yet encountered.

Later, at the “Don’s” final fateful party, he is portrayed much as the dissolute, impotent Jack Nicholson at the end of “Carnal Knowledge,” sitting in his designer leather easy chair, distractedly clicking his remote and viewing his own Mozartean “Ball Busters on Parade” slide show, with photo after photo of past conquests flashing on the wall.

Giovanni8.pngKonstantin Gorny (Don Giovanni), Stefan Stoll (Leporello) and Christina Niessen (Donna Elvira)

When the “Commendatore” finally nabs his arm in a death grip, hell arrives in the form of a sex-guilt-induced hallucination of these same images that now flood the stage, disorienting the audience with strobe-like rhythmic interweaving that make the “Don” appear to be floating in a visual hell of his own creation. This was emotion-laden, first-rate stagecraft.

Less effective was the closing sextet. The set did not quite turn in time for them to be singing full front at its opening, and all were sharing breakfast at a Victorian dining table, “Masetto” and “Zerlina” with baby carriage in tow and (judging from “Zerlina’s” Britney Spears bare bulging belly) another tot on the way. I guess they were all being hosted by the nun-garbed “Elvira,” now in her convent. It was a bit of a miscalculated visual, especially after an evening of utmost clarity.

For Robert Tannenbaum knows how to direct singing actors. He knows how to position them so they can be heard to maximum effect. He knows how to draw focus to the soloist when there are others on stage. He knows how to illuminate their relationships and enhance our appreciation of the piece. This is a director serious about serving the work at hand, and hey, I can live with an odd, well-intended dining table or two. Tannenbaum scores a significant achievement with memorably inventive work on this evergreen standard.

But no amount of fine design or direction could have saved indifferent music-making, and here, too, Karlsruhe came up with the goods in spades. At the center of it all, the fine (guest) international baritone Bo Skovhus was virile, potent, mesmerizing, and troubled; singing all the while with beauty of tone, dramatic fire, and star power. His effervescent, articulate “Champagne Aria” was as fine as I have ever heard.

One non-musical note about our star: the production should consider losing the long straight-haired wig he is made to wear until the final scene, when he is blessedly “au naturel.” It may be meant to convey a rock star image, but ends up looking a bit like Ali McGraw on a bad hair day.

Giovanni9.pngUlrich Schneider (Commendatore) and Konstantin Gorny (Don Giovanni)

Tenor Bernhard Berchtold literally stopped the show with a breath-taking, superbly controlled sotto voce rendition of “Dall sua pace.” His second aria was also sung very well, and if a couple of upward leaps sounded a bit squally, he nevertheless inspired his public to deserved rapturous ovations.

Guest bass Christophe Fel’s rather stock “Leporello” was well-served by a big, grainy voice of pleasing timbre, and ample projection. It must be said that his generally good comic timing lacked in subtlety, and his singing was marked by several patches of casual acquaintance with the downbeat. And upbeat. Or any beat.

“Masetto” found a pleasing physical/dramatic embodiment in Mika Kares, who produced a suave and rolling bass-baritone. His Partner in Peasantry was the delightful, petite Diana Tomsche as “Zerlina.” Her clear, free lyric voice wanted a bit more fullness in “La ci darem,” especially since she otherwise brought a delectable tone and substantial vocal presence to the stage.

Another guest star, Carmela Remigio offered us a beautiful, pointed, well-schooled soprano of ample size; always in command of “Anna’s” heroic music; wedded to a good realization of the role’s dramatic and directorial demands. While this was a very credible and enjoyable turn, I hope I may be forgiven if I say that she is not just yet in a league with my “Anna’s-of-Christmas-Past” including Leontyne Price, Carol Vaness, and Joan Sutherland. However, time and further experience could certainly bring her into that company, as she already has a lovely presence and considerable gifts. (She has recorded the role.)

“Elvira” was a bit of a mixed blessing in Christina Niessen’s competent hands. Hers is a unique, metallic sound that aptly suited the shrewish aspects of this role as she unrelentingly pursued her once and (she wishes!) future prey. I found that although she was always completely in service of the role and the director’s concept, her technique did not wear especially well on me, seeming almost strident by opera’s end. Perhaps some modulating of her heated dramatic zeal would correct some of this impression.

In his small role, Ulrich Schneider was an imposing, dark- hued “Commendatore.” The Badisches Staatskapelle played with stylish vitality and solid commitment under the sure hand of Jochem Hochstenbach.

This “Don Giovanni” strikes a welcome balance between “traditional” and “what-was-that-about?” and clearly pleased its public. The raw power of the libido-driven action, coupled with persuasive musical results made a great case for Mozart’s masterpiece. Not only would Wolfgang have approved, but he assuredly would also have giddily joined in this pleasurable evening of “goin’ sexin’.”

James Sohre

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):