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

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.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

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):