Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

La Bohème, Manitoba

Manitoba Opera’s first production in nine years of Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème still stirs the heart and inspires tears with its tragic tale of bohemian artists living — and loving — in 1840s Paris.

Arizona Opera Presents Don Pasquale in Tucson

On April 12, 2014, Arizona Opera opened its series of performances of Donizetti's Don Pasquale in Tucson. Chuck Hudson’s production of this opera combined Commedia dell’arte with Hollywood movie history.

Will Don Quichotte Be the Last Production at San Diego Opera?

This quotation from Cervantes was displayed before the opening of the opera’s final scene:

“The greatest madness a man can commit in this life is to let himself die, just like that, without anybody killing him or any other hands ending his life except those of melancholy.”

Gound Faust - Calleja and Terfel, Royal Opera House London

Gounod's Faust makes a much welcomed return to the Royal Opera House. With each new cast, the dynamic changes as the balance between singers shifts and brings out new insights. In that sense, every revival is an opportunity to revisit from new perspectives. This time Bryn Terfel sang Méphistophélès, with Joseph Calleja as Faust - stars whose allure certainly helped fill the hall to capacity. And the audience enjoyed a very good show.

Syracuse Opera’s Porgy and Bess
Got Plenty O’ Plenty

The company ends its 2013-14 season on a high note with a staged performance of Gershwin’s theatrical masterpiece

A New Rusalka in Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Antonin Dvorak’s Rusalka is visually impressive and fulfills all possible expectations musically with unquestioned excitement.

Karlsruhe’s Mixed Blessing Ballo

The reliable Badisches Staatstheater has assembled plenty of talent for its new Un Ballo in Maschera.

Louise Alder, Wigmore Hall

This varied, demanding programme indisputably marked soprano Louise Alder as a name to watch.

Luke Bedford: Through His Teeth, Linbury, Royal Opera House

Can this be the best British opera in years? Luke Bedford’s Through His Teeth at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre is exceptional. Drop everything and go.

Powder Her Face, ENO

As one descends the steel steps into the cavernous bunker of Ambika P3, one seems about to enter rather insalubrious realms — just right one might imagine, then, for an opera which delves into the depths of the seedier side of celebrity life.

Iphigénie Fascinates in the Pfalz

Kaiserslautern’s Pfalztheater has produced a tantalizing realization of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide, characterized by intriguing staging, appealing designs, and best of all, superlative musical standards.

ROH presents Cavalli’s L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

Never thought I’d say it but......

Harrison Birtwistle, Elliott Carter, Wigmore Hall, London

Celebrating the 80th birthday of one of the UK's greatest composers (if not the greatest), this concert was an intriguing, and not always stimulating, mix. Birtwistle with Carter makes sense, but Birtwistle with Adams does not - or at least only within the remit of the concert series. The concert was actually entitled “Nash Inventions: American and British Masterworks, including an 80th Birthday Tribute to Sir Harrison Birtwistle” and was the final concert in the “Inventions” series.

Requiem for a Lost Opera Company

On Wednesday, March 19, 2014, General Director Ian Campbell of San Diego Opera announced that the company would go out of business at the end of this season. The next day the company performed their long-planned Verdi Requiem with a stellar cast including soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, tenor Piotr Beczala, and bass Ferruccio Furlanetto.

The Met’s Werther a tasty mix of singing, staging, acting and orchestral splendor

Visual elements in Richard Eyre’s striking production offset Massenet’s melodic shortcomings

Chicago’s New Barber of Seville

New productions of repertoire staples such as Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia bear much anticipation for both performers and staging.

Lucia in LA: A Performance to Remember

On March 15, 2014, Los Angeles Opera presented Elkhanah Pulitzer’s production of the opera, which she set in 1885 when women were beginning to be recognized as persons separate from their fathers, brothers and husbands. At that time many European countries were beginning to allow women to own property, obtain higher education, and choose their husbands.

San Diego Opera Presents an All Star Ballo in Maschera

On March 11, 2014, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s A Masked Ball in a traditional production by Leslie Koenig. Metropolitan Opera star tenor Piotr Beczala was Gustav III, the king of Sweden, and Krassimira Stoyanova gave an insightful portrayal of Amelia, his troubled but innocent love interest.

Anne Schwanewilms, Wigmore Hall

From the moment she walked, resplendent in red, onto the Wigmore Hall platform, Anne Schwanewilms radiated a captivating presence — one that kept the audience enthralled throughout this magnificent programme of Romantic song.

Die Frau ohne Schatten, Royal Opera

Magnificent! Following the first night of this new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, I quipped that I could forgive an opera house anything for musical performance at this level, whether orchestral, vocal, or, in this case, both.

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):