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

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.

Extravagant Line-up 2017-18 at Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, Germany

The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.

Gerhaher and Bartoli take over Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus

The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.

Mahler Symphony no 8 : Jurowski, LPO, Royal Festival Hall, London

Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.

Rameau's Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques: a charming French-UK collaboration at the RCM

Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.

St Matthew Passion: Armonico Consort and Ian Bostridge

Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.

Pop Art with Abdellah Lasri in Berliner Staatsoper’s marvelous La bohème

Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.

New opera Caliban banal and wearisome

Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.

Two rarities from the Early Opera Company at the Wigmore Hall

A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.

Enchanting Tales at L A Opera

On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.

Ermonela Jaho in a stunning Butterfly at Covent Garden

Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.

Brave but flawed world premiere: Fortress Europe in Amsterdam

Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.

New Sussex Opera: A Village Romeo and Juliet

To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.

La voix humaine: Opera Holland Park at the Royal Albert Hall

Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.

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):