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

In Parenthesis, Welsh National Opera in London

‘A century after the Somme, who still stands with Britain?’ So read a headline in yesterday’s Evening Standard on the eve of the centenary of the first day of that battle which, 141 days later, would grind to a halt with 1,200,000 British, French, German and Allied soldiers dead or injured.

Die Walküre, Opera North

A day is now a very long time indeed in politics; would that it were otherwise. It certainly is in the Ring, as we move forward a generation to Die Walküre.

Early Gluck arias at the Wigmore Hall

If composers had to be categorised as either conservatives or radicals, Christoph Willibald Gluck would undoubtedly be in the revolutionary camp, lauded for banishing display, artifice and incoherence from opera and restoring simplicity and dramatic naturalness in his ‘reform’ operas.

Das Rheingold, Opera North

Das Rheingold is, of course, the reddest in tooth and claw of all Wagner’s dramas - which is saying something.

Peter Grimes in Princeton

The Princeton Festival presents one opera annually, amidst other events. Its offerings usually alternate annually between 20th century and earlier operas. This year the Festival presented Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, now a classic work, in a very effective and moving production.

Scintillating Strauss in Saint Louis

If you like your Ariadne on Naxos productions as playful as a box of puppies, then Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is the address for you.

Saint Louis Takes On ‘The Scottish Opera’

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis took forty years before attempting Verdi’s Macbeth but judging by the excellence of the current production, it was well worth the wait.

Anatomy Theater: A Most Unusual New Opera

On June 16, 2016, Los Angeles Opera with Beth Morrison Projects presented the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang's Anatomy Theater at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT).

Shalimar in St. Louis: Pagliaccio Non Son

In its compact forty-year history, the ambitious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has just triumphantly presented its twenty-fifth world premiere with Shalimar the Clown.

Jenůfa, ENO

The sharp angles and oddly tilting perspectives of Charles Edwards’ set for David Alden’s production of Jenůfa at ENO suggest a community resting precariously on the security and certainty of its customs, soon to slide from this precipice into social and moral anarchy.

The “Other” Marriage of Figaro in a West Village Townhouse

Last week an audience of 50 assembled in the kitchen of a luxurious West Village townhouse for a performance of Marriage of Figaro.

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Katherine Broderick as Donna Anna and Iain Paterson as Don Giovanni [Photo by Donald Cooper courtesy of English National Opera]
08 Nov 2010

Don Giovanni, ENO

There’s nothing wrong with updating an opera as long as the director, designer and conductor share an understanding of the work’s principal ideas and motivations, conflicts and contexts, and have a clear vision of how they intend to communicate these in a new setting.

W. A. Mozart: Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni: Iain Paterson; Donna Elvira: Sarah Redgwick; Donna Anna: Katherine Broderick; Leporello: Brindley Sherratt; Don Ottavio: Robert Murray; Zerlina: Sarah Tynan; Commendatore: Matthew Best; Masetto: John Molloy. Conductor: Kirill Karabits. Director: Rufus Norris. Set Designer: Ian MacNeil. Costume Designer: Nicky Gillibrand. Lighting Designer: Mimi Jordan Sherin. English National Opera, Coliseum, Saturday 6th November

Above: Katherine Broderick as Donna Anna and Iain Paterson as Don Giovanni

All photos by Donald Cooper courtesy of English National Opera

 

Sadly, director Rufus Norris, designer Ian MacNeil, and conductor Kirill Karabits, are desperately out of kilter in this miserable, in all senses of the word, production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

A sparking, spluttering lighting rig occupies centre-stage as the opening notes of the overture strike up; gradually it rises, resting askew, half-way to the rafters, and there it dangles redundantly for the rest of the performance, occasionally emitting a spark or flash. As the Stone Guest’s motif sounds, there’s some vacuous brutality in the dark recesses, a nameless women is brought before Giovanni to be abused, and we are clearly being told that this is going to be a ‘nasty’ evening. Never mind that Da Ponte’s Giovanni proves to be a rather ineffectual Casanova, not once carrying out a successful seduction in the course of the opera. We are in a modern degenerate dystopia, and Mozart and his librettist have clearly been left far behind in the eighteenth century.

With this re-reading, a crucial aspect of the original is lost: namely, the class conflicts inherent in the amorous entanglements and betrayals. The erratic costumes don’t help. Dressed initially in jeans and scruffy trainers, the Don dons an aquamarine eighteenth-century frock coat for his opening sexual encounter, complete with antique wig; he then exchanges this outfit for a slick red suit, aptly devilish over a black thug’s t-shirt, as debonair man-about-town, gaily throwing parties for the plebs; and finally, he slips into slobby black pyjamas adorned with the face of Christ and topped off with a hallowe’en mask. Frankly, Masetto’s shiny blue Primark suit is more stylish. This confused costuming destabilises our sense of the power relations between the protagonists; and makes a nonsense of the Masetto’s avowal, ‘At your service, sir’, when Giovanni interrupts the wedding party. The Enlightenment’s strict stratification of society, with its attendant modes of behaviour and codes of honour, has been jettisoned, making the Don’s philandering seem like tedious self-indulgence as opposed to radical subversion.

Hyperactive periaktoi, spun wildly in the urban gloom by masked marauders, present us with fleeting visions of dingy street-corners, Elvira’s Formica flat, a Seventies’ discotheque, as MacNeil tries in vain to conjure up an air of reckless abandon and amoral depravity.

All this is a waste of good translation and some strong singing. Jeremy Sams perhaps indulges in a few too many vulgar double entendres — ‘I’m tired of playing sentry/while he tries to force an entry’ — but his wit sparkles and the rhyming couplets spill out easily (perhaps a bit too profusely in the final scene), reminding us of the fun and alertness of Mozart’s and Da Ponte’s buffa opera. Sadly, at times it is clear that the director does not care what the cast are actually singing about: when Zerlina tries to wile her way back into Masetto’s affection after his beating at the hands of Giovanni’s thugs (where does it hurt … here, or here …?), providing, one might think, ample opportunity for some affectionate petting … there is no chance of an ardent quiver or two, as Norris has seated her on a window sill, 15 feet away.

Don_Giovanni_Brindley_Sherratt_credit_Donald_Cooper.pngBrindley Sherratt as Leporello

Part of the problem was the pace, or lack of it. Kirill Karabits never once whipped up the necessary excitement and zip in the pit; the overture was ponderous and fuzzy, the recitative almost static, and during one of the greatest of operatic denouements, as Giovanni is sucked down to hell, the only thing electrifying was the exploding circuit which descended and despatched Giovanni to his death. Thus, Leporello’s catalogue aria — skilfully and side-splittingly re-imagined by Sams as a spin-doctor’s statistical presentation of his master’s conquests month by month, powerpoint, spreadsheets and all — never generated enough momentum to suggest the rush of the Don’s romping rampages, despite the artful timing and neat delivery of Brindley Sherratt’s yobbish Leporello.

The cast tried their best to inject some frisson. The women fared best. Deputising at the last minute for Rebecca Evans (afflicted with infected sinuses), Sarah Redgwick was dramatically convincing as the scorned and scornful Donna Elvira. Attired in a sharp red suit, her ‘Mi tradi’ was clear and penetrating, and she never once became the nagging harridan or neurotic hysteric of Giovanni’s imaginings. Katherine Broderick has a sufficiently hefty voice for Donna Anna, but at times it was rather shrill and ragged, especially in Act 1. Sarah Tynan’s Zerlina was ravishingly sweet, and she minced delightfully; her bright sound was consistently matched by John Molloy as Masetto. But whatever happened to subtle innuendo: why, oh why, was Masetto offered a boxing glove on a silver platter during Zerlina’s faux-subordinate ‘Batti, batti’?

Don_Giovanni_Sarah_Redgewick_Iain_Paterson_Brindley_Sherratt_credit_Donald_Cooper.pngSarah Redgewick as Donna Elvira, Iain Paterson as Don Giovanni and Brindley Sherratt as Leporello

In the title role, Iain Paterson showed that he is a composed, accomplished singer, able to vary and control his voice, a confident stage presence. Yet, though the text was clearly enunciated and singing flexible and relaxed, he didn’t generate sufficient testosterone-fuelled dynamism — maybe the baggy Jesus t-shirt was to blame. Moreover, it was no fault of Paterson’s that his ‘Senerade’, delectably sung, made no dramatic sense: for, after a surfeit of comic crudities, Sams’ inserts sentimental longings for an ideal love, ‘the one I miss the most’, yearnings which are totally unconvincing. Mawkish projections of this ‘muse’ — assumingly an idealisation of female beauty — did not help.

As Don Ottavio, Robert Murray produced a warm tone and presented a generous heart as Donna Anna’s loyal, steady ‘protector’; he performed ‘Dalla sua pace’ with a consistently smooth line and striking radiance. Unfortunately, his portrait of integrity and loyalty was not assisted by the spangly, heart-shaped balloon he was forced to clutch, or the smooching couples dancing in distance. Murray suffered a fair share of the director’s indignities, encouraged inexplicably to remove his clothes at the end of the great Sextet? Matthew Best lacked a monumental majesty in the opening scene, but was suitable imposing at the close and made a striking image, slumped, white-suited and pallid against a graffitied wall. The chorus of identikit demons were, like their surroundings, unfocused and lacking spark.

The closing scene begins with Giovanni and his side-kick, slouched like drunken tramps on a grimy street, preparing a pavement picnic of takeaway left-overs drawn from a discount-store carrier-bag: an image that ironically rather sums things up — for, like the stale bread rolls they fling contemptuously at the Commendatore, there really is a lot of garbage in this production. The mock-fugue finale presents a simple moral: “if you’re bad you’ll go to hell” — relevant in more ways than one.

Claire Seymour

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):