21 May 2011
Don Giovanni, Florida Grand Opera
By Leporello’s count (in the “Catalogue aria”), Don Giovanni tallies over 2,000 sexual exploits.
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.
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.)
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.
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.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
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.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
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).
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’.
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.
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.