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

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

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):