Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

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.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.



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):