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 Performances

Collision: Spectra Ensemble at the Arcola Theatre

‘Asteroid flyby in October: A drill for the end of the world?’ So shouted a headline in USA Today earlier this month, as journalist Doyle Rice asked, ‘Are we ready for an asteroid impact?’ in his report that in October NASA will conduct a drill to see how well its planetary defence system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth.

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

A new La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Big birds are looming large at Glyndebourne this year. After Juno’s Peacock, which scooped up the suicidal Hipermestra, Chris Guth’s La clemenza di Tito offers us a huge soaring magpie, symbolic of Tito’s release from the chains of responsibility in Imperial Rome.

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

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):