21 May 2011
Don Giovanni, Florida Grand Opera
By Leporello’s count (in the “Catalogue aria”), Don Giovanni tallies over 2,000 sexual exploits.
It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.
With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.
Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.
If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”
Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?
Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.
On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.
Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.
Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.
Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.
The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s ﬁrst great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.
The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.
This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.
Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’
Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.
Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.
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.