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

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.

Sibelius Kullervo, BBC Proms, London

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn't allow it to be heard after its initial performance, though he referred to it fondly in private.

Aïda at Aspen

Most opera professionals, including the individuals who do the casting for major houses, despair of finding performers who can match historical standards of singing in operas such as Aïda. Yet a concert performance in Aspen gives a glimmer of hope. It was led by four younger singers who may be part of the future of Verdi singing in America and the world.

Prom 53: Shostakovich — Orango

One might have been forgiven for thinking that both biology and chronology had gone askew at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday evening.

Written on Skin at Lincoln Center

Three years ago I made what may have been my single worst decision in a half century of attending opera. I wasn’t paying close attention when some conference organizers in Aix-en-Provence offered me two tickets to the premiere of a new opera. I opted instead for what seemed like a sure thing: William Christie conducting some Charpentier.

La Púrpura de la Rosa

Advertised in the program as the first opera written in the New World, La Púrpura de la Rosa (PR) was premiered in 1701 in Lima (Peru), but more than the historical feat, true or not, accounts for the piece’s interest.

Pesaro’s Rossini Festival 2015

The 36th Rossini Opera Festival in Rossini’s Pesaro! La gazza ladra (1817), La gazzetta (1816) and L'inganno felice (1812) — the little opera that made Rossini famous.

Santa Fe: Placid Princess of Judea

Unlike the brush fire in a distant neighborhood of the John Crosby Theatre, Santa Fe Opera’s Salome stubbornly failed to ignite.

Airy and Bucolic Glimmerglass Flute

As part of a concerted effort to incorporate local color and resonance into its annual festival, Glimmerglass has re-imagined The Magic Flute in a transformative woodland setting.

Glimmerglass Conquers Cato

Bravura singing and vibrant instrumental playing were on ample display in Glimmerglass Festival’s riveting Cato in Utica.

Energetic Glimmerglass Candide

Bernstein’s Candide seems to have more performance versions than Tales of Hoffmann.

Die Eroberung von Mexico in Salzburg

That’s The Conquest of Mexico, an historical music drama composed in 1991 by German composer Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952). But wait. Wolfgang Rihm construed a few sentences of Artaud’s La Conquête du Mexique (1932) mixed up with bits of Aztec chant and bits of poem(s) by Mexico’s Octavio Paz (d. 1998) to make a libretto.

Scottish Sensation at Glimmerglass

Glimmerglass is celebrating its 40th Festival season with a stylish new production of Verdi’s Macbeth.

Norma in Salzburg

This Salzburg Norma is not new news. This superb production was first seen at the Salzburg Festival’s springtime Whitsun Festival in 2013 with this same cast. It will now travel to a few major European cities.

The power of music: a young cast in a semi-stage account of Monteverdi’s first opera

John Eliot Gardiner conducted a much anticipated performance of Monteverdi’s first opera L’Orfeo at the BBC Proms on 4 August 2015, with his own Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists.

Cold Mountain Wows Audience at Santa Fe World Premiere

On August 1, 2015, Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Cold Mountain, a brand new opera composed by Pulizer Prize and Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Gerald Finley as Don Giovanni and Katarina Karnéus as Donna Elvira [Photo by Mike Hoban courtesy of the Royal Opera House]
27 Jan 2012

Don Giovanni, Royal Opera

Introducing the winter-spring season, ROH Chief Executive Tony Hall explains the (perhaps a tad spurious) Olympic ‘concept’ which has inspired the season’s programming, the five interlocking rings of the Olympic insignia motivating the performance of a series of works staged in ‘cycle form’.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni: Gerald Finley; Leporello: Lorenzo Regazzo; Donna Anna: Hibla Gerzmava; Donna Elvira: Katarina Karnéus; Don Ottavio: Matthew Polenzani; Zerlina: Irini Kyriakidou; Masetto: Adam Plachetka; Commendatore: Marco Spotti. Royal Opera Chorus. Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Conductor: Constantinos Carydis. Director: Francesca Zambello. Designs: Maria Bjørnson. Lighting Design: Paul Pyant. Fight Director: William Hobbs. Movement: Stephen Mear. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Saturday, 21 January 2012.

Above: Gerald Finley as Don Giovanni and Katarina Karnéus as Donna Elvira

Photos by Mike Hoban courtesy of the Royal Opera House

 

Thus, having kicked off in autumn with Puccini’s triptych, Il Trittico, we now have a triple dose of Mozart-Da Ponte, beginning with that delicious blend of the dissolute and the delectable, flavoured with a dash of the supernatural that, mimicking its slippery ‘hero’ himself, so often evades the directorial grasp: Don Giovanni.

Francesco Zambello’s staging, first seen in 2002 and revived several times since, is certainly full of fire, nowhere more so than in the final scene when flames literally threaten to lick the curtains and engulf the auditorium. But, although the ‘dissolute one’ is ultimately punished, this opera is about more than simply a ‘just’ meting out of hellfire and damnation; it is a ‘dramma giocoso’, and getting the right balance between menace and mischief, between horror and humour, is a tricky task.

DON_GIOVANNI_10200_2347.pngHibla Gerzmava as Donna Anna

Maria Bjørnson’s sets certainly tend towards the dark and dispiriting: a steely, curved wall suggests a suitably sepulchral edifice, festooned with crucifixes. Aloft perches a brooding, kitsch Madonna; it glowers judgmentally upon the degenerate goings-on, later prompting both a sacrilegious outburst from the frustrated sinner and a sentimental serenade from Don Ottavio. The ugly vertical construction revolves at the end of the first act to reveal a painted perspective of a grand banqueting hall, effectively transposing us from an abstract age scattered with assorted period allusions, to an unambiguous eighteenth-century Spain. By the beginning of the second act, the wall has crumbled into a pile of bricks and rubble.

This rather unappealing visual design is enlivened by the striking costumes whose deep, rich hues evoke the intense, contrasting palette of Goya, and integrate class signifiers and moral codes. The aristocrats sport royal blue and noble purple, while the peasants are dressed in simple (‘pure’?) white frocks; Don Giovanni is cloaked in crimson, as are his servants, excepting Leporello whose shabby, grey attire reflects the seediness and squalor of his existence.

Zambello’s ideas, though at times original and interesting, do not always add up to a complete whole; but if the show ‘works’, it is largely due to the musicality and muscularity of Gerald Finley as the eponymous philander, by turns imperious and charming, threatening and mesmerising. He is self-knowing but never self-pitying. Strikingly swathed in scarlet, from the first Finley is ruthless and dangerous, recklessly slaying the Commendatore, and later assailing Masetto with malice and spite. But, such viciousness is forgotten in a flash, as his voice enchants and allures. It is obvious why Zerlina submits so willingly, for ‘La ci darem’, like the subsequent Canzonetta, ‘Deh vieni alla finestra’, is breathtakingly sweet. Although we can see that the Don is oblivious to everything but his own satisfaction — sexual, gastronomic and material — Finley’s audacity, self-belief and independent spirit thrill us just as much as his vocal powers.

DON_GIOVANNI_10200_0069.pngMatthew Polenzani as Don Ottavio, Hibla Gerzmava as Donna Anna, Marco Spotti as Commendatore

It is fitting that, following the ‘victors’ moralising fugato, it is the scorching silhouette of the wrong-doing reprobate bearing aloft a naked woman, anticipating continuing gratification, that is the image that brings down the final curtain; for it is Finley who has monopolised our attention and interest throughout. It is an image that neatly captures the irony that Mozart and Da Ponte surely intended, and the ambivalence that the score and libretto constantly declare.

Finley’s Leporello, Lorenzo Regazzo, could not match or, more appropriately, complement and counterpoise, his master’s dramatic or musical stature. In a disappointingly low-key performance, Regazzo’s fairly insubstantial bass offered neither comic capers nor buffo vengeance. There was much shoulder shrugging and miserable moping, but the catalogue aria was disappointingly dull — even Elvira looked bored, as she drifted about, disengaged and disinterested in the servant’s notebook flinging. However, Regazzo did perk up for the mock seduction of Elvira, enjoying his role-swapping adventures, his excited anticipation of the joys that his master’s costume endow, quickly turning to disillusionment when he gained not gratification but grief from the vengeful wronged.

DON_GIOVANNI_10100_0046.pngGerald Finley As Don Giovanni, Lorenzo Regazzo As Leporello

But, underpowered vocally and dramatically, Regazzo got ‘lost’ in the chaos that concludes Don Giovanni’s party and in the final banquet scene, in which Leporello’s heartlfelt terror should serve to emphasise his master’s insouciant self-assurance, he went unnoticed.

The big surprise of the evening was Matthew Polenzani ’s Don Ottavio; this effete aristo was a far cry from the ineffectual posturer and grumbler of far too many productions. Indeed, Polenzani won the loudest applause of the night, for his pianissimo da capo of ‘Dalla sua pace’ which was truly refined.

There were strong performances too from Adam Plachetka (Masetto), a dark voiced bass-baritone of stature, and Marco Spotti, who was a commanding Commendatore.

The female leads were all making house or role debuts. Wearing a Havisham-esque gown, Katarina Karnéus was an overly melodramatic Elvira; with little help from the director, her perfectly plausible anger lacked focus, and often lapsed into deranged ranting and raving. Moreover, why is she borne in in a sedan chair? She is surely savagely incensed, rather than self-composed and sedate? Despite this, Karnéus did convincingly convey Elvira’s unpredictable mood swings: she has gloss and clarity at the top, but lacks weight and richness in lower range. And she didn’t quite have sufficient stamina, tiring in ‘Mi tradi’.

As Donna Anna, Hibla Gerzmava’s hard-edged tone was a good match for her ‘hard-to-get’ stance with Ottavio, but won her character little sympathy. Irini Kyriakidou was a mature, knowing Zerlina but, while mostly secure, she lacked variety of tone.

Zambello’s banquet scene is a mixture of the banal and the blood-curdling. There is no statue — although, puzzlingly, the chorus stand stock-still, like frozen figurines, when Don Giovanni invites his ghostly guest to dinner. Instead of an imposing effigy we have an enormous swinging, pointing finger - the hand of God, we suppose, or else that of the Commendatore himself, mocking the beguiling invitation of the Don’s seductive serenade.

DON_GIOVANNI_10200_0768.pngScene from Don Giovanni

While there were dazzling pyrotechnics on stage, there was disappointingly little fervour in the pit, despite the breakneck pace of the overture which promised so much. Constantinos Carydis, conducting from memory, let the momentum droop and drag, at times unsettling his soloists (even Finley, who surprisingly anticipated the start of ‘La ci darem’) and wrong-footing his chorus, who tripped and stumbled through the Act 1 finale. Carydis clearly possesses a detailed knowledge of the score but there was simply not enough attention to the overall ensemble, which was sacrificed for momentary nuances. The recitatives were enlivened by some witty continuo playing from Mark Packwood, and the ‘Girl-bands’ and other musicians at the Don’s wedding feast — playing from memory — provided impressive entertainment.

Ultimately, whatever the flaws of conception, design and performance, Finley’s masterful performance ensured a satisfying evening was had.

Claire Seymour

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):