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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.



13 Dec 2011

Grand Don Giovanni, La Scala, Milan

More than a gala for Milan and for Italy, this wonderful Don Giovanni at Teatro alla Scala, Milan, was a gala for all the world, broadcast live internationally.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni: Peter Mattei; Il Commendatore: Kwangchul Youn; Donna Anna: Anna Netrebko; Don Ottavio: Giuseppe Filianoti; Donna Elvira: Barbara Frittoli; Leporello: Bryn Terfel; Zerlina: Anna Prohaska; Masetto: Stefan Kocan. Conductor: Daniel Barenboim; Director: Robert Carsen; Sets: Micahael Levine; Costumes: Brigitte Reiffenstuhl. Teatro alla Scala, Milan, 7th December 2011 (broadcast live internationally).


This production starts controversially. Donna Anna (delicious Anna Netrebko) tussles with Don Giovanni (Peter Mattei). We assume it’s rape, because nice girls don’t do sex with strangers. What is she really objecting to, his presence or his mask? How did Don Giovanni get past her defences? He’s a man for whom the thrill of the chase may be more important than the act. So this Donna Anna seems to be enjoying herself while claiming to resist. After all, she has a fiancé and an image to protect. Don Ottavio (Giuseppe Filianoti) isn’t convinced she loves him. Netrebko sings the recitative and “Non mi dir, bell'idol mio”, with such passion that you wonder what private grief she’s trying to suppress. Netrebko’s Donna Anna is psychologically complex, not simply a victim of an attack, but of the whole repressed, narrow world she lives in. Netrebko’s performance was a tour de force of great emotional depth, haloed by exceptionally lustrous orchestral playing.

Don Giovanni is a cad but he’s a charmer. Mattei is sexy, and sings with alpha male confidence, but he expresses Don Giovanni’s appeal on deeper levels. Don Giovanni embraces life — meals as well as women — and deliberately flouts convention, whereas men like Don Ottavio and Masetto (Stefan Kocan) cling to it. He offers choice. “È aperto a tutti quanti! Viva la libertà!”. Perhaps that’s why he only meets his match in The Commendatore (superb Kwangchul Youn) who defies the constraints of death. Mattei’s Don Giovanni has animal energy, and glories in it — what kind of man keeps his own studbook? But Mattei also suggests the boyish impishness that some women can’t resist. Women like Donna Elvira (Barbara Frittoli) need so much to be needed that they fall for a trite ditty like “Deh vieni alla finestra”.

Ultimately, Don Giovanni seduces because he fills women’s fantasies. He also captivates men. Leporello (Bryn Terfel) is culpable for Don Giovanni’s misdeeds, but he can’t break away. Mattei and Terfel are the same age, and have created both Don Giovanni and Leporello, so it’s interesting to hear them together. At first Terfel is costumed like a roughneck, which is a complete mistake. No surprise that Terfel, who knows the opera thoroughly, looks uncomfortable and doesn’t sing the catalogue aria as crisply as he has done before. Don Giovanni wouldn’t hire a buffoon.

Once the silly costume is gone, Terfel shows why he’s a match for Mattei. Their different styles bounce off each other, creating dramatic tension. Terfel sounds like he’s about to explode with the violence Don Giovanni suppresses under his urbane exterior. Mattei, though, is strong enough to stand up to this savage Leporello, his elegant demeanour barely ruffled, for he knows Leporello isn’t so different from Donna Anna and Donna Elvira. They all protest but remain transfixed. The Mattei/Terfel dynamic shows the symbiotic relationship between two strong personalities made uneven because of their social status. The dinner party scene bristles with latent menace.

Everyone’s playing mind games in this opera. Zerlina (Anna Prohaska) keeps up an illusion of innocence yet delights in kinky activities (read the text). Zerlina is young, but no puppet. Prohaska’s movements are as crisp as her diction, creating a pert, non-victim personality who could quite possibly pull the strings on Don Giovanni if their positions were reversed. Prohaska is a singer to follow.

This production, directed by Robert Carsen, emphasizes the games the characters are playing. When Don Giovanni and Leporello change clothes, they aren’t really fooling anyone who doesn’t want to be fooled. The set (Michael Levine) resembles the curtain at the Teatro alla Scala, which Don Giovanni “pulls” down in replica. The masqueraders emerge from the audience, dressed in velvet, the colour of blood. It’s a good use of the otherwise wasted space right down the middle of the theatre, and dramatically correct for it engages the audience to take a stand on the morality in the opera.

When the Commendatore rises from his grave, Kwangchul Youn’s magnificent bass booms across the auditorium. It’s terrifying because the audience is disoriented, just like Don Giovanni. Youn is standing in the royal box, with the President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano. It’s a powerful statement, since the Italian president isn’t an ordinary politician. Politicians screw around like Don Giovanni, but the President of Italy, like Il Commendatore, is supposed to represent higher ideals. Mattei and Youn struggle with such intensity that it’s irrelevant whether Youn “is” or isn’t a statue. He stabs Don Giovanni through with his sword. “Questo è il fin di chi fa mal” sing the ensemble at the end. Often this epilogue feels unnatural after the fireworks that went before. This time there’s a twist. Mattei stands on stage, while the ensemble descends into a hole in the ground. In the real world, Commendatores don’t appear by magic. Bad guys will win unless we take responsibility against them.

Anne Ozorio

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