21 May 2011
Don Giovanni, Florida Grand Opera
By Leporello’s count (in the “Catalogue aria”), Don Giovanni tallies over 2,000 sexual exploits.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
By Leporello’s count (in the “Catalogue aria”), Don Giovanni tallies over 2,000 sexual exploits.
Whether such a thing is possible (Wilt Chamberlain notwithstanding) or not is for others to debate. The more interesting question might be who DaPonte and Mozart had in mind as they set to work on unmasking the Spanish grandee.
Early in the 17th century, a Spanish monk by the name Tirso de Molina wrote of a certain Don Juan more reprehensible than is probable and so much less than worthy that he is cast into fiery hell pits. Scores of offshoots (Moliere, Byron, E.T.A. Hoffman, Pushkin, and Kierkegaard count among those that succeeded with adaptations) came out of Molina’s Don and it is probable that this is the historical figure from which Mozart’s Don Giovanni is derived.
About a century later, there appears on the scene Giacomo Girolamo Casanova de Seingalt. You know him simply as Casanova. Mozart’s take on Giovanni so interested Casanova — and his station as a man that set off on serial dalliances was so established - that he was said to have approached (unsolicited) DaPonte to advise him on the libretto; he may have sat in on the opera’s premiere to wit. But Casanova’s reputation was not that of a true libertine. By his own admission in his 12 volume mega-autobiography L’histoire de mon vie, he was but a mild womanizer: he lists a paltry 122 escapades and often the sole faculty he required from a woman was good conversation.
It remains that DaPonte and Mozart shaped Giovanni as a composite of these men, adding a soupcon of super-physical feats here and inflating the drollness (in the spirit of dark comedy, or drama giocosa) driving his depravity there. From this, productions and directors have room to play with the degree of redeeming value left their Giovanni. Florida Grand Opera’s production seeks to bend the picture of Giovanni to make him a more sympathetic anti-hero, to explain his actions as a function of psychodynamics and therefore something all men must trespass through: commitment-phobia or its less severe cousin, proverbial cold-feet.
The festive ambiance in the air on April 16, opening night, was the likes of which are felt when things are on an upswing and that is where FGO finds itself in recent seasons. The company’s operatic high notes peaked in 2010 with exciting new productions, interesting new talent and efforts to reach out to the opera community at large (opera luminary Ira Siff is on hand and this is John Pascoe’s Giovanni). So, opera interest is heightened this month with this Giovanni production (courtesy Washington National Opera) and, in repertory, David DiChiera’s Cyrano showing through the end of the month.
Ottavio and Anna (Bidlack and Wagner) by the fallen Commendatore (Robinson)
Before a single note played, the curtain rose to Giovanni (David Pittsinger) and the circling “ghost of girlfriends past” behind a soft screen — what resulted was a field-of-sight dark, smoky, hazy, and impressionistic — a feast for the eyes before other senses were tapped.
Pascoe’s sets (arid and rustic in flavor with corresponding studding and fittings on frames and doors), offset costumes (those of Masetto and Zerlina were especially decorative) and the wielding of revolvers gives the story extra personality and takes the audience to a Spain feeling the remnants of Ottoman influence. The final scene at Giovanni’s castle, with vault-like doors at the entrance, was another glance into Pascoe’s imagination: the Commendatore, forces of repent coursing through him, pulls Giovanni (and zaps a Leporello too close for comfort) in like a magnet. That strobe lights, so often a gimmicky excess, were trained at center of symmetrical doors had something to do with their effectiveness. Pascoe’s costumes were of gorgeously decorated heavy and reflective fabrics — in purples, blues, and blacks, embroidered and streaked in gold.
Leporello (Corbeil) recounts of Giovanni's conquest to Elvira (Jarman) in the “Catalogue Aria”
Pittsinger mostly fulfilled his promise to “inhabit” Giovanni, stylizing his performance satisfyingly. Giovanni does some pretty daft to risqué things per Pascoe — urinating on the Commendatore’s statue, performing cunnulingus on one of the members of the band in the last act — and Pittsinger went at these gamely. All the fight scenes came off well, with special kudos due the swordplay and tug-of-war (Fighting Director Bruce Lecure and Choreographer Sara Erde — in her first assignment with FGO - collaborating) with Ottavio and friends (four in total). Giovanni’s music sits very well in Pittsinger’s voice; he shaded and modulated compellingly and, at times, beautifully — his “Deh, vieni” placed in the latter category.
By the sound of it, Tom Corbeil — whose voice is phonogenic — is likely to make the switch from Leporello to Giovanni not far down the road. Corbeil had fun with Leporello’s music and the Pee-Wee Herman hairdo (Wig and Makeup by Chris Diamantides) he sported was in keeping with his anxiety-stricken servant. The Donna Elvira of Georgia Jarman was as irritating to the Don as could be imagined; Pascoe put a tool in the hand of Elvira for that purpose — evidence of the grandee’s misdeeds and complicating Giovanni’s relationship to Elvira and the Commendatore. Elvira carries a swaddled infant throughout the opera. Jarman, in her first outing with FGO, sang a “Mi tradi” with potent force and some lovely spun high notes.
The Commendatore (Morris Robinson) runs through Giovanni (David Pittsinger)
Morris Robinson is such a presence — he (and Pascoe) made the Commendatore a pivot point in this production. Right from the get go, he pulls out a pistol during the duel, grazing Giovanni on the arm (a wound that is hard to heal throughout the opera). Heard at other points in his career in other roles, Robinson’s voice is remembered for its sheer size; Mozart’s music exposes it as glorious.
In his arias, Andrew Bidlack (Don Ottavio) sang winning phrases with a pleasant sounding mid-section. As Ottavio’s betrothed Donna Anna, Jacqueline Wagner won the audience over with a strongly felt “Non mi dir.” The Masetto this evening, Jonathon G. Michie, exhibited exemplary acting, nonplussed and peeved as he was over his Zerlina’s infatuation for the Don. Brittany Ann Renee Robinson (Zerlina), in her FGO debut, was a distracted vixen with a light soprano that carried a light “Batti, batti.”
FGO resident conductor Andrew Bisantz — carrying an ultra-sensitive baton for vocalists this evening– and orchestra found their most select playing marks in the sweeping interplay of winds and strings. Caren Levine provided harpsichord continuo. FGO’s chorus (with John Keene as Chorus Master) did a fine job on all fronts — busy as they were in non-singing tasks (they riot across the stage to open the second act). Erde made things interesting for the minuet by turning the program into something of a dance school.
It’s hard to tell if Giovanni came off as more likable, or even more relatable, this time. This time, like most times, there is only one way to defrost Giovanni’s feet.