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

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Don Giovanni at Washington National Opera
19 Nov 2007

Pascoe comes to grips with the Don

Mozart made it easy for the Philistines. They see Don Giovanni thrown into the flaming jaws of Hell and hiss: “Two thousand women seduced and abandoned! “

W. A. Mozart: Don Giovanni
Washington National Opera

All photos by Karin Cooper for Washington National Opera

 

He was a bad man and he got what he deserved!” But did Mozart really see it this way? Could he have written the music that he did for this man without a strong sense of identification - without a sympathy rooted in his own experience of life?

In the staging of “Don Giovanni” at the Washington National Opera this fall, John Pascoe might not answer this question, but it’s clear that he — both director and designer of the handsome production — hardly takes a Bible-belt view of the Don and his fate. But what does Pascoe do to make this an unusually absorbing staging? And does he get this all-time Casanova off the red-hot spikes on which he is impaled on stage by Satan’s minions? (Remember that in “Man and Superman” Shaw sends Giovanni to Heaven, where he is bored by all the lily-white Goodness and spends his days lounging in Hell, where life is far more interesting.)

All of us — women and men alike — want to be Giovanni or be seduced by him, Pascoe writes, outlining his approach to the opera. And in comments on the WNO production, the seeds of which were sown in a 2003 staging while the company was “in exile” in Constitution Hall during the renovation of its Kennedy Center home, Pascoe points to the distinction between the Don as seducer and the Don as a demonic individual. “He should not be a demon figure,” the director writes. “He has to be an incredibly seductive figure . . . looking like a magnificent sexually driven animal in the first act.”

But losing oneself in interpretative speculation at this point overlooks the overwhelming excellence of the performance seen on November 13. “Giovanni” is a long opera of many scenes that easily become piecemeal in lesser hands. Pascoe picks up on the dramatic drive of the score in the opening D Minor chords of the overture and sustains this throughout both acts of the opera until the tension is broken by the epilogue the follows the Don’s demise.

One sits for three hours as if facing a headwind that blows with passionate velocity from stage and orchestra pit, where WNO assistant conductor Israel Gursky made his main-stage debut as a man closely attune to Pascoe’s concept of the work. (WNO general director Placido Domingo had conducted the first six of eight “Giovanni” performances.)

Although Pascoe opts for an essentially timeless approach in sets and costumes, references to Franco’s Spain place the story in an era of turbulence and repression. And his designs bring to the Kennedy Center stage a sense of cosmic space that enhances the universality of the story. The dark clouds that gather at the end of Leporello’s “catalogue” aria — to cite one example — clearly foretell the Don’s doom.

Uruguayan bass Erwin Schrott, a leading Don of the day, was replaced in final performances of the run by Ildar Abdrazakov, who had sung Leporello to Schrott’s Don. His older brother Askar then took over the servant role. (Although Askar is the elder by seven years, the sibling collaboration recalls Peter Sellars’ 1991 casting of identical twins Herbert and Eugene Parry in these roles.)

ildar4a.pngIldar Abdrazakov (Don Giovanni)

The brothers, born in Bashkortostan, have those huge, wonderfully rich and resonant voices unique to Russian singers and are perfectly paired in these roles. Ildar has the dash and daring of an ideal Don, whom he makes a study in internal combustion set to music. Askar stresses Leporello’s awareness that he is hopelessly caught in the web of his master’s desires. (Ildar, by the way, is married to top Russian mezzo Olga Borodina.)

Although Mozart buffs have long argued whether Donna Anna or Donna Elvira is the more important woman in this drama, for Pascoe Elvira is the frontrunner, and he supports his view by bringing her on stage with a baby in arms. “I want the audience to feel as though Don Giovanni and Donna Elvira are a lion and lioness who have been apart from each other,” the director states, “and who are in love with each other in a very deep and passionate manner.” In other words, had the Don stood still long enough to realize it, Elvira was the woman who might have sated his appetite.

And German soprano Anja Kampe, WNO’s resident Sieglinde, has the strength of voice and personality to make her the equal of the Don. As an elegant Anna, on the other hand, Canada’s Erin Wall is fired by an unrelenting desire for revenge, and Pascoe’s costumes give her a feline ferocity — with claws extended. And in Canadian tenor John Tessler she has at her side an Ottavio far removed from the Milquetoast figure that her fiancé commonly is. One is grateful that both his arias are included in the staging.

Amanda Squitieriz and James Shaffran are charmingly innocent as peasants Zerlina and Masetto. And as the Commendatore Morris Robinson is a chilling basso profundo in the cemetery scene. Denmark’s pre-existentialist Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was among the first to look beneath the surface of “Don Giovanni,” seeing there the parallels between the title figure and Goethe’s Faust. In “Either/Or” the “melancholy Dane,” a theologian by training, distinguishes between the “sensuous genius” of the Don and the “intellectual genius” of Goethe’s hero.

ildar1.pngIldar Abdrazakov (Don Giovanni)

And the suggestion is clear that while Faust’s quest is for a single incarnation of “the eternally feminine” — “das Ewig-Weibliche,” the Don seeks rather to compose a mosaic, in which an infinite number of women merge. Although Goethe (1749-1832) lived both long before and long after Mozart, they were contemporaries. Indeed, Goethe repeatedly staged “The Magic Flute” at his Weimar theater and even attempted to write a sequel to the story. And when approached by composers eager to make an opera of “Faust,” he waved them off, saying that only “the composer of ‘Don Giovanni’” would be equal to that task.

British-born Pascoe, a man with 30 years experience in opera, has brought a “Giovanni” both beautiful and musically fulfilling to Washington National Opera. And he would agree, one thinks, with Kierkegaard’s conclusion that if he were ever to understand Mozart, he would know that he is mad, for no one will ever completely understand Mozart.

Wes Blomster

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):