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

Schoenberg's Gurrelieder at the Proms - Sir Simon Rattle

Prom 46: Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, Simon O'Neill, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Karen Cargill, Peter Hoare, Christopher Purves and Thomas Quasthoff. And three wonderful choirs - the CBSO Chorus, the London Symphony Chorus and Orfeó Català from Barcelona, with Chorus Master Simon Halsey, Rattle's close associate for 35 years.

Dunedin Consort perform Bach's St John Passion at the Proms

John Butt and the Dunedin Consort's 2012 recording of Bach's St John Passion was ground-breaking for it putting the passion into the context of a reconstruction of the original Lutheran Vespers service.

Collision: Spectra Ensemble at the Arcola Theatre

‘Asteroid flyby in October: A drill for the end of the world?’ So shouted a headline in USA Today earlier this month, as journalist Doyle Rice asked, ‘Are we ready for an asteroid impact?’ in his report that in October NASA will conduct a drill to see how well its planetary defence system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth.

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

A new La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Big birds are looming large at Glyndebourne this year. After Juno’s Peacock, which scooped up the suicidal Hipermestra, Chris Guth’s La clemenza di Tito offers us a huge soaring magpie, symbolic of Tito’s release from the chains of responsibility in Imperial Rome.

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Luca Pisaroni as Leporello and Peter Mattei as Don Giovanni [Photo by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera]
26 Oct 2011

Don Giovanni, Metropolitan Opera

According to legend, when composing Don Giovanni, Mozart completed the overture last. It was written the night before the opera’s premiere, while his wife Constanze, a fervent taskmaster, plied him with food and drink to make sure he stayed awake.

W. A. Mozart: Don Giovanni

Donna Anna: Marina Rebeka; Donna Elvira: Barbara Frittoli; Zerlina: Mojca Erdmann; Don Ottavio: Ramón Vargas; Don Giovanni: Peter Mattei; Leporello: Luca Pisaroni; Masetto: Joshua Bloom; The Commendatore: Stefan Kocán. The Metropolitan Opera. Conductor: Fabio Luisi.

Above: Luca Pisaroni as Leporello and Peter Mattei as Don Giovanni

Photos by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

 

Supposedly, when the opera was performed the following evening, the ink was still wet on the pages.

GIOVANNI-Frittoli2536.pngBarbara Frittoli as Donna Elvira

The finished product is a marvel of composition. After the opening, two ferocious minor chords, what follows is a depiction of hell: the perfect beginning to an opera whose full title is Don Giovanni, or The Punished Miscreant. When the Met’s new principal conductor, Fabio Luisi, conducted the new production of Don Giovanni on Saturday, October 22nd, he executed the beginning minor chords of the overture with startling accuracy. However, in the following section, in which Mozart depicts hell, he seemed a tad lackluster. Unfortunately, this was a sad harbinger of what was to come, not just from the pit, but from the stage as well.

So what went wrong? My diagnosis is that the Met’s new production, directed by acclaimed Broadway director Michael Grandage, fell victim to the politics of the Peter Gelb regime. As a director who is unfamiliar to opera, Grandage fits well into Gelb’s scheme of operatic rejuvenation, for the purposes of demonstrating to the public that “opera is not just great music, but great theater as well.” To be fair, Mr. Grandage’s work can be breathtaking. A recent Broadway run of Hamlet, starring Jude Law, was a wonderful night at the theater. Unfortunately, Mr. Grandage’s productions function mainly as vehicles for the performers. Had Hamlet not starred the dynamic Mr. Law, it might have come up flat. This is what happened here.

GIOVANNI-Rebeka3432.pngMarina Rebeka as Donna Anna

The real problem with this production, therefore, can be seen as a trick of fate. Under normal circumstances, the title rascal would have been played by baritone Mariusz Kwiecien and James Levine would have been in the pit. As it happened, both Mr. Kwiecien and Mr. Levine were indisposed, so the Finnish baritone Peter Mattei had to be pulled from The Barber of Seville where he was singing Figaro, and Fabio Luisi stepped in, yet again at the last minute, for Mr. Levine.

While an amazing Figaro, Mr. Mattei’s Giovanni was a caricature of the great villain. To be sure, Don Giovanni is an opera buffa, but it is less a bubbling comedy, like Rossini’s Barber, and more a dark comedy with far-reaching political undertones. The oversexed nobleman of the title is supposed to make you laugh, but each laugh is supposed to hurt. Mattei’s Giovanni lacked the essential component of volatility that Mozart so desperately wanted. That said, he sang well. His “Deh vieni alla finestra” was a joy to hear, but despite the masterful singing, this aria, just like the majority of the performance, lacked emotional substance.

As Leporello, Luca Pisaroni was magnificent. He played Giovanni’s servant as a sardonic commentator on the action. His performance as the valet made me hope that he would one day attempt the Don himself. Among the men, other standouts include Ramón Vargas, who gave a wonderfully sung and surprisingly masterful performance as Don Ottavio. He was far from the epitome of inactivity of other productions. Joshua Bloom gave an excellent turn as Masetto, and Štefan Kocán was a marvelously unstable and threatening Commendatore.

Of the three women, Mojca Erdmann was a stylish Zerlina. She certainly has the technique to sing Mozart, however her character portrayal of the wily peasant girl was a little flat. The highlight of her performance was “Vedrai carino.” It showcased her ability as an actress while at the same time making one wish the rest of her performance could have been as good. Marina Rebeka was a thrilling Donna Anna. The highlight of her performance was “Or sai che l’onore.” It is customary to portray Donna Anna as a strong character, only limited by the accident of being born a woman. However, here she didn’t just scold Don Ottavio. Had the aria been longer, she might have eaten him alive.

giovanni erdmann bloom_3067.pngMojca Erdmann as Zerlina and Joshua Bloom as Masetto

The crowning achievement of this performance was Barbara Frittoli. For better or worse, she became the focal point of the opera. She took a well-known facet of the character, her ambivalent mix of revulsion and love for Giovanni, and explored it to the utmost degree. Unlike other Elviras, who between acts one and two seem to magically change from loathing to adoration for the Don, both facets of her character were present from the beginning.

Critics have maligned this production for its set, which consists of a wall of decrepit-looking shuttered balconies. They scoff at its so-called “Advent calendar” design. In my opinion, the design is not the flaw here. What is an issue is the blocking. Throughout the opera, certain characters on the ground interact with those standing on balconies. This creates an uncomfortable lack of chemistry in an opera that is supposed to sizzle with eroticism. Yet even when all the characters are standing together on the ground, there was confusion in their interactions. For instance, Donna Anna was not present for Don Ottavio’s rendition of “Il mio Tesoro.” As a consequence, Mr. Vargas had to sing of his love for Donna Anna to everyone else but Donna Anna.

Instead, Mr. Vargas focused on Donna Elvira. While this strengthened the idea that Elvira is engaged in a neverending search for love, this directorial faux pas made me wonder if Elvira was really the title character of this production. There were some instances of genius. Don Giovanni removed Zerlina’s veil just before “La ci darem la mano.” A subconscious nod toward his desire to take her virginity, perhaps? Also, Elvira was ravished on the dining room table by a Giovanni who was literally blinded to fate during his last meal on Earth.

GIOVANNI-Pisaroni-Frittoli.pngLuca Pisaroni as Leporello, Barbara Frittoli as Donna Elvira, Ramón Vargas as Don Ottavio, Peter Mattei as Don Giovanni, and Marina Rebeka as Donna Anna

However, such inspiration was fleeting. At the end, when all the characters sing of their need to put their lives back in order, I was left wondering, “Was there any real threat to begin with?” The desire to reinvigorate the public’s interest in opera with ubertheatrical productions is a noble endeavor, but if the performance doesn’t at least acknowledge what originally excited the composer, how can we be sure a modern day public will be interested?

Gregory Moomjy

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):