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 Reviews

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.

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.

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.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2

Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Erwin Schrott in the title role of Mozart's
31 Oct 2008

Don Giovanni at the MET

The fascination of Don Giovanni lies not only in the bejeweled score but in the interplay of its eight intriguing characters, each based on an ancient type, yet each somehow cut loose from the formula da Ponte molded so well.

W. A. Mozart: Don Giovanni

Donna Anna (Krassimira Stoyanova), Donna Elvira (Susan Graham), Zerlina (Isabel Leonard/Monica Yunus), Don Giovanni (Erwin Schrott), Leporello (Ildebrando D’Arcangelo/Ildar Abdrazakov), Don Ottavio (Matthew Polenzani), Masetto (Joshua Bloom), Commendatore (Phillip Ens). Conducted by Louis Langré. Metropolitan Opera, performances of October 10 and 14.

Above: Erwin Schrott in the title role of Mozart's "Don Giovanni"

All photos by Marty Sohl courtesy of Metropolitan Opera

 

(Not only for Mozart – his libretti for Martin y Soler and Salieri are generically similar, their characters similarly self-aware.)

Take, for example – and I will explain my reasons for bringing her up in particular – Donna Anna. As Brigid Brophy notes, in Mozart the Dramatist, we will never know what passed between her and Don Giovanni in the moments before the curtain rises – people have been debating it for two hundred years, and each age, cynical or idealistic by turns, guesses what it wants to guess from the evidence. We first meet an Anna outraged at Giovanni’s attack – which is still in progress – and only her own furious resistance prevents his easy success, and then commences her unappeasable rage at her father’s murder. In contrast, there is her tenderness for Don Ottavio in the prayer trio, and in “Non mi dir” – such slight moments we might overlook them, as those who don’t like Ottavio much tend to do – too, we are a bit tired by the time “Non mi dir,” the opera’s last aria, rolls around. Yet surely these are the normal Donna Anna, the Anna who existed before abnormal events, assault and murder, released a new, furious figure on Seville, and her life and relationships – not least, her relationship with herself. That she asks Ottavio for another year to ponder the events of the last 24 hours before she weds him always raises a snicker nowadays (it certainly does at the Met), but that she wants some time to breathe, to think, to understand the outrages that have transformed the orderly world she was raised to believe in seems entirely within character. Will she hold out for a full year of formal mourning? Will she break down and elope – with Ottavio or someone more dashing? Will she ever bring herself to yield to the too-courteous Ottavio? Mozart and da Ponte preferred to leave us uncertain – they liked us like that.

Some analysts – especially stage directors – do not agree: Frank Corsaro insisted Anna was after the “Big O”; having had her first sexual encounter and craving more – which seems to me most unlikely for this formal, uptight woman in response to rape. It is nowadays a cliché (perpetuated in Marthe Keller’s vulgar and ugly Met staging) to have Anna yielding to Giovanni at the end of the opening trio, falling into his arms right there on the ground, but no note of the music or word of the libretto justifies such an interpretation, and the scene was never presented this way until quite recent times. This view of Anna’s motivation is not itself modern – in a celebrated tale of E.T.A. Hoffman. a bare generation after Mozart’s time, the real Donna Anna appeared in Hoffman’s box during a performance of the opera and explained that her anger was all an act, concealing true love. This is not the way modern directors see her either – they tend to regard Donna Elvira as the devotee, Anna as a neurotic, a creature of artifice, of propriety, incapable of – or at least out of touch with – genuine feelings. And G.B. Shaw (a man without sexuality himself, whose creations seldom have much of it) made his Ann the self-conscious mother of the future Superman, seeking the proper father for such a being – which still does not explain why she would choose Shaw’s sexless and misogynistic Jack Tanner for the part.

GIOVANNI_Schrott_Leonard_04.pngErwin Schrott in the title role and Isabel Leonard as Zerlina in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”

Anna’s emotions must be examined because the music supports any and all of these interpretations: Donna Anna must be in control of a voice’s ornamental capacities both when howling for revenge and when expressing dulcet sentiments to her faithful fiancé. She must be capable of seizing our attention with the rages of her initial trio and duet, of holding us through the long accompanied recitative of her narrative of assault and resistance, of performing “Non mi dir” at the shank’s end of a long night, and of still singing beautifully in the final sextet. (Some directors finesse that by omitting the finale entirely. If the Anna is not a brilliant singer, they will even cut “Non mi dir.”)

So it is that though I have heard perfect Don Giovannis, perfect Leporellos, perfect Ottavios and Zerlinas and even (not often) Elviras, I have never encountered, on stage or on recording, a perfect Donna Anna – one who made the role complete, explicable, musical, at once beautiful and irresistibly exciting. As with Norma or Tosca or Isolde, I do not expect ever to hear one singer draw all the threads, the possibilities, the range of this character into a single portrayal, and make it a thing of beauty besides.

GIOVANNI_Graham_3752.pngSusan Graham as Donna Elvira in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”
I bring all this up because the Met’s most recent Donna Anna, Krassimira Stoyanova, comes about as close as I ever expect to hear. My date said, “95 percent,” which I’ll accept; an older friend said, “No one as good since Eleanor Steber,” whom I never heard, but whose Mozart technique as recorded was nonpareil. My best Anna to date was that of Carol Vaness in the early ’80s at the City Opera, beautiful, fiery, classy, but lacking the tenderness, the occasional vulnerability Stoyanova gives us at those moments when Anna is alone with her own soul and need not put on an act.

Stoyanova, who is the toast of Vienna and Barcelona (her superb Desdemona, Luisa Miler and Violetta can be heard on webcast from those houses), possesses one of the most beautiful soprano voices before the public today. In the prayer and in “Non mi dir,” it was impossible not to focus on each note – one did not want to miss any one of them; one did not want the moment to end. And yet it was not the beauty of the voice but its range of color, the forceful statement of each phrase that riveted us during the narration of Giovanni’s attempted rape that leads up to “Or sai che l’onore.” She was all steel here, without sacrificing beauty of tone: every word, every phrase meant something. Without eliminating the possibility that Anna is covering something up while speaking to her lover, she gave us a woman outraged, stirred and alarming, even to herself. Her ornaments were tasteful and, as her Anna Bolena for Queler demonstrated, capable of expressing rage and inner torment – but there were turns in “Non mi dir” (where so many Annas come to grief) that were less than ideal – her only such moments, and it was still a “Non mi dir” that deserved – and got – the loudest ovation of the night. The duet with Polenzani’s Ottavio during the finale could have gone on all weekend for my money: I would never say hold, enough! This is a singing actress of the rarest quality, as a vocalist and a performer, and it is a tragedy for us in New York that the Met doesn’t appreciate her.

GIOVANNI_Stoyanova_3153.pngKrassimira Stoyanova as Donna Anna in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”

I had never heard Erwin Schrott before, and concur that he has the swagger, the elegance, the wit, and the solid top-to-bottom lyric bass for the role. He tends to play the charming Don rather than the brutal Don – an ideal Don must be both. Somehow, Schrott has such fun acting the role that he does not put his energy into singing its vocal high points. His arias passed almost without notice – there was no sweetness in the serenade, little exuberance in the Champagne Aria. I cannot remember if it is Keller’s idea to have Giovanni without a mask in both the opening scene (which obliges Anna to contort herself so as not to see him) and in the scene with Masetto’s friends, when a mere hat would do. Was Schrott afraid to conceal his pretty face? Or did the director fear audiences would be confused by his disguise as Leporello? What confused me was how Anna could not recognize him, and how a high collar could disguise him from Masetto.

Considering Scrott’s formidable height and muscularity, and that of his voice, this was a surprisingly insubstantial Giovanni.

GIOVANNI_D_Arcangelo_0198.pngIldebrando D’Arcangelo as Leporello in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”
Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (and, in the next performance, Ildar Abdrazakov) seemed to be having the most fun of the evening. Keller seems to like Leporello so much and to dislike Giovanni so much that she has given the valet all the good moments. Scrott and D’Arcangelo played like vaudeville partners, mugging and traipsing and interacting, and their delight was infectious, but though this is certainly the most intimate relationship of Giovanni’s life (in the libretto we often see one of the pair imitating the other, or protecting, or cautioning), as played here it did not allow much room for the ladies or the plot. They would play a good skit on Don Giovanni; I’m not sure this allows us a view into the opera as a serious drama.

Matthew Polenzani is one of the finest Mozart tenors now before the public, and he has emerged as a favorite with Met audiences as well; his “Dalla sua pace” was strong, but his breath control was not quite up to “Il mio Tesoro.” For me, his finest singing all night was the five minutes of duet with Stoyanova in the finale, when his, warm, supportive sound acted like a ballet cavalier to his lady.

Susan Graham’s mezzo had no problem with the (slightly lowered) music of Donna Elvira, and she wielded her height to make the scenes with Leporello comic, but the instrument itself lacks the soprano sheen one recalls of the greatest Elviras. It’s a pity that the Met has so many mezzos on hand they have seem to have lowered this role as a regular habit.

I don’t often approve of mezzos Zerlinas either, although that can pass as long as this flirtatious but demure peasant bride is not a slut sticking her rear end in the air in the middle of the public street, as Keller (and too many other recent directors) demand. Isabel Leonard was in some trouble on the tenth, and was replaced in Act II by Monica Yunus, who also replaced her in the performance on the fourteenth – a short, pretty woman with a bright, easy soprano of no obvious individuality. She seemed able enough on stage. Both Zerlina and Masetto are obliged to do rather complicated steps, mimicked by dancers, in their entrance duet – an assignment Leonard and Yunus and their Masetto, Joshua Bloom, handled with style. Bloom has a winning presence and a voice of great character and, well, bloom – I look forward to his Figaro and Papageno. Here, after slamming Marthe Keller, I must insert a word of praise: the scene in the Act I finale where Leporello and Giovanni manage to separate Zerlina and Masetto, usually so inexplicable, is very cleverly handled here, as Leporello sics a peasant girl on Masetto, and she refuses to leave him alone.

Louis Langré, the head of the Mostly Mozart orchestra, demonstrated who his favorite composer is, drawing out the light, luscious touches that make every Don Giovanni as much a revelation as one’s first. He will return with the production this spring, with Peter Mattei’s highly praised Giovanni.

John Yohalem

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):