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

Les Indes galantes, Bavarian State Opera

Baroque opera has long been an important part of the Bavarian State Opera’s programming. And beyond the company itself, Munich’s tradition stretches back many years indeed: Kubelík’s Handel with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, for instance.

Don Giovanni, Bavarian State Opera

All told, this was probably the best Don Giovanni I have seen and heard. Judging opera performances - perhaps we should not be ‘judging’ at all, but let us leave that on one side - is a difficult task: there are so many variables, at least as many as in a play and a concert combined, but then there is the issue of that ‘combination’ too.

A dance to life in Munich’s Indes galantes

Can one justly “review” a streamed performance? Probably not. But however different or diminished such a performance, one can—and must—bear witness to such an event when it represents a landmark in the evolution of an art form.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the Proms

For its annual visit to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Glyndebourne brought its new production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, an opera which premiered 200 years ago.

Béatrice and Bénédict at Glyndebourne

‘A caprice written with the point of a needle’: so Berlioz described his opera Béatrice and Bénédict, which pares down Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to its comic quintessence, shorn of the sub-plots, destroyed reputations and near-bloodshed of Shakespeare’s original.

Der fliegende Holländer, Bavarian State Opera

‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Die Walküre, Baden-Baden

A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Falstaff in Iowa: A Big Fat Hit

Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines: Jewels in Perfect Settings

Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.

First Night of the Proms 2016

What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Mariusz Kwiecien as Don Giovanni in LA Phil’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni at Walt Disney Concert Hall led by Gustavo Dudamel, in collaboration with Frank Gehry, Rodarte and Christoper Alden. [Photo by Autumn de Wilde]
04 Jun 2012

Don Giovanni, LA Philharmonic

Kudos to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association and Gustavo Dudamel for their courageous plan to present semi staged performances of the Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy of Italian operas with the assistance of outstanding set and costume designers and directors.

W. A. Mozart: Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni: Mariusz Kwiecien; Leporello: Kevin Burdette; Donna Anna: Carmela Remigio; Donna Elvira: Aga Mikolaj; Don Ottavio: Pavol Breslik; Zerlina: Anna Prohaska; Masetto: Ryan Kuster; Commendatore: Stefan Kocan.Los Angeles Philharmonic. Gustavo Dudamel: conductor. Christopher Alden, director. Frank Gehry: installations. Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte: costume design. Adam Silverman: lighting design.

Above: Mariusz Kwiecien as Don Giovanni in LA Phil’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni at Walt Disney Concert Hall led by Gustavo Dudamel, in collaboration with Frank Gehry, Rodarte and Christoper Alden.

All photos by Autumn de Wilde

 

I attended the May 24th presentation of Don Giovanni — an opera with the subtitle ossia il dissoluto punito, (or the libertine punished) to which, for this production, I assign a second: Don Giovanni, ossia la cornucopia traboccata. How else to describe the genius and talent associated with this production - beginning with Mozart and Da Ponte, and including Maestro Gustavo Dudamel, architect turned scenic designer, Frank Gehry, costume designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, and director Christoper Alden, but as an overflowing cornucopia of creativity? Unfortunately, however, this cornucopia was unable to pour forth its riches, but was compelled to reverse its stream; that is to use its considerable gifts to fit a great operatic work onto a small stage not at all suited to opera. That the evening offered pleasure despite major failings, is a tribute to the courage of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association and the creativity of the artists who conceived and produced the work.

DG_LA_04.pngAga Mikolaj as Donna Elvira in LA Phil’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni at Walt Disney Concert Hall led by Gustavo Dudamel, in collaboration with Frank Gehry, Rodarte and Christoper Alden.

The restrictions that the theater imposed on the undertaking: lack of a proscenium, lack of a curtain, and only one entrance/exit at each side of the stage, were formidable. But restrictions in form, content, in fact, restrictions of any kind, are known to inspire artists to remarkably creative solutions. Such was the case here- some more successful than others. Entering the theater, the audience saw a white stage set with mounds of crinkled white paper and a large white cube. The orchestra was in the process of taking its seats behind the white set in a completely black environment. The black clothed musicians were surrounded by what seemed unscalable heights of black crinkled paper. With the only illumination the lights on their stands, to members of the audience like myself who could look into the “pit”, it seemed as if the orchestra was already in a variant of hell.

The singers performed in an ice-bound galactic universe. It turned out that the walls of crinkled white paper on stage were wheeled, as were various size white cubes which were rolled about as required by the slimmest white clad stevedores you ever saw (or were they ballet dancers?) who moved extremely slowly with precision and grace. Don Giovanni, Leporello, Don Ottavio and Masetto, were also clad in white, and were clearly chosen not merely for their vocal talents, but for their appearance in white tights. They wore a variant of space suits and distinctive sleek and shiny wigs. Don Giovanni’s wig was the blackest and his shoulder pads the widest. Leporello’s wig resembled that of Star Trek’s Data. Only the Commendatore wore black — in life and in death. In his death outfit he could have passed for Darth Vader.

DG_LA_05.pngPavol Breslik as Don Ottavio) and Carmela Remigio as Donna Anna in LA Phil’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni at Walt Disney Concert Hall led by Gustavo Dudamel, in collaboration with Frank Gehry, Rodarte and Christoper Alden.

Golden haired Donna Anna was dressed in white in Act 1, and in a similar white dress stained with panels of red in Act 2. Donna Elvira was assigned long black hair and sparkling black dresses and head pieces for both acts, which made her eligible to do the Queen of the Night. Zerlina’s hair was violet, and her head piece and dress which spoke of youth and spring in Act 1, appeared despoiled in the second act. No PR article about the costumes omitted the fact that over 130,000 Swarovski crystals were used for those six garments.

Christopher Alden’s direction seemed designed to overcome the restrictions required by the exposed and too small stage, and to enhance the fantastic, dream-like costumes and sets. Don Giovanni approached Donna Anna’s room as though walking behind a funeral procession. Action was often vertical — that is all the characters were at one time or another were required to climb up and down the cubes. Many exits took place in openings in the crumpled paper walls, or did not take place at all. Characters required to appear in a succeeding scene often remained “inconspicuously” still in full view of the audience. Thus Don Giovanni sat atop a cube in lotus position, while other action was going on. And Don Ottavio, lay as though dead, center stage, until it was time for him to re-enter a scene. How did this all serve Mozart and Da Ponte? Surprisingly well in some ways — not at all in others. But first, the music.

DG_LA_02.pngStefan Kocan as the Commendatore in LA Phil’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni at Walt Disney Concert Hall led by Gustavo Dudamel, in collaboration with Frank Gehry, Rodarte and Christoper Alden. [Photo by Autumn de Wilde]

Maestro Dudamel, conducting without a score and without being able to see his singers (though they could see him on monitors) produced a bouncy overture and a dramatic, though a more strictly rhythmic reading of the score than is customary. It troubled me throughout the work that he could not see his performers, so perhaps I was projecting my own anxiety about this. But I thought he might be worried about those down beats! If precision between conductor and singers was not the hallmark of this performance, I was still amazed at how well they did come together - and at the passion the singers brought to their roles. Baritone Mariusz Kwiecien, who is said to consider the role of Don Giovanni as his “calling card,” made an attractive and sonorous Don. Bass Kevin Burdette’s Leporello was both physically and vocally lithe. Perhaps because he was costumed as were the other males, in a “space suit”, tenor Pavol Breslik’s lyrical Ottavio was not the least bit wimpy as so many Ottavios seem to be. Ryan Kuster was a fine Masetto, and Stefan Kocan’s appearance and voice as a basalt Commendatore, struck fear in all the appropriate places. Carmela Remigio, a gifted Mozart soprano, sang the emotionally complex and musically difficult role of Donna Anna with remarkable intensity. She also had the most climbing to do. Her bedroom was the top surface of the tallest cube. Aga Mikolaj, another Mozart specialist who studied with Elizabeth Schartzkopf, was a heated Donna Elvira. The sweetest soprano sounds of the evening were those of Anna Prohaska as Zerlina.

Don Giovanni is a social/sexual drama with comic elements. Da Ponte, who likely modeled the Don on his good friend, Casanova, famously described his own trysts with a sixteen year old chambermaid, while writing the libretto. In the “old days” swashbuckling Dons were the rule. The current operatic scene has incorporated carnal scenes and nudity. Setting this heated, comic and yes, moralistic work into a small, white universe, created a fascinating tension between what was being said and sung, and what we were seeing in the slow-moving icy world before our eyes. Mozart’s warmth and genius made him, appropriately, the star of the evening.

DG_LA_06.pngAnna Prohaska as Zerlina and Ryan Kuster as Masetto in LA Phil’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni at Walt Disney Concert Hall led by Gustavo Dudamel, in collaboration with Frank Gehry, Rodarte and Christoper Alden.

So what didn’t work? The story telling. There were no props; no sword skewered the Commendatore, Don Giovanni and Leporello didn’t change clothes, there were no goblets for the champagne aria, no peasants dancing even as the Los Angeles Master Chorale posted on both sides of the orchestra sang as if there were. The English titles told the audience of things they didn’t see. The comic scenes were weak. Audience members unfamiliar with the opera could not possibly follow the narrative. Indeed, as difficult as it was to obtain tickets to these sold out performances, many seats were vacant for the second act.

Still, it is always thrilling to see newly created and newly conceived productions of familiar works. I’m looking forward to what the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s next creative team will do with The Marriage of Figaro, ossia la folle giornata (or the crazy day). It’s a comic opera in which people jump out of windows and get locked in closets — a charming story — magical music. I trust that as Los Angeles learns to cope with its concert hall, ossia teatro dell’ opera, we will see a great show.

Estelle Gilson

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):