Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.

Expressive Monteverdi from Les Talens Lyriques at Wigmore Hall

This was an engaging concert of madrigals and dramatic pieces from (largely) Claudio Monteverdi’s Venetian years, a time during which his quest to find the ‘natural way of imitation’ - musical embodiment of textual form, meaning and affect - took the form not primarily of solo declamation but of varied vocal ensembles of two or more voices with rich instrumental accompaniments.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Mariusz Kwiecień as Don Giovanni [Photo © ROH / Bill Cooper]
06 Feb 2014

Don Giovanni, Royal Opera

Kasper Holten’s new production of Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera House risks laying the house’s Director of Opera open to charges of antiquated mores and misogyny: for he seems to suggest that the women are just as bad, if not worse, than their seducer — and that a soulful man who seeks genuine love is likely to find his ‘ideal beloved’ forever out of reach.

Don Giovanni, Royal Opera

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Mariusz Kwiecień as Don Giovanni

Photos © ROH / Bill Cooper

 

This is a (forgive the pun) grave, serious Don Giovanni. Although Mozart wrote to his father that ‘The most essential thing is that on the whole the story should be really comic’, the phrase ‘on the whole’ leaves room for some equivocation and the term dramma giocoso has given the musicologists much to chew over. (Indeed, the esteemed Mozart scholar Tim Carter titles his programme article ‘Serious, Comic Or…’)

But, if the overall effect of the production is somewhat sombre, and the ending leaning towards existential, then the action itself is full of life, the stone-grey façade of Es Devlin’s inventive set illuminated by the engaging video animations of Luke Halls and Bruno Poet’s lighting design.

DON_GIOVANNI-RO_362.pngAlex Esposito as Leporello

As the foreboding tones of the introductory andante are swept aside by the overture’s Molto Allegro onward scurrying, so the curtain rises on a bare exterior wall, imposing facing the auditorium. But, it doesn’t stay bare for long; like a visual representation of the musical narrative, the names of Don Giovanni’s sexual conquests appear — at first slowly then in a frantic rush of calligraphic etching. It is as if an invisible pen of light is reproducing before our eyes the inscriptions in the Don’s catalogue of paramours.

As the central cube of Devlin’s architectural design rotates, a doll’s-house labyrinth of staircases reaching into perpetuity and interlocking rooms for lovers’ trysts, washes of colourful graffiti — patterns and petals, tears and tessellations — tell the Don’s tale. In the second act the side panels of the façade draw back, isolating the geometrically intricate cube within a black void and emphasising the Don’s loneliness. It’s all visually engaging and thought-provoking, the disorientating vortex which accompanies the ‘Champagne aria’ — with Giovanni suspended at the centre of the geometric maelstrom — is a highpoint, suggesting both the effervescent fun of popping of champagne corks and the uncontrollable consequences of the reprobate’s debauchery.

The mid-nineteenth century costumes (by Anja Vang Kragh) are handsome — the ladies’ frocks are especially luxurious and eye-pleasing — but they fail to communicate the class differences which drive the conflict, most noticeable with the vengeful interlopers at the wedding party cry, ‘Viva la libertà!’

DON_GIOVANNI-RO_458.pngVeronique Gens as Donna Elvira and Mariusz Kwiecień as Don Giovanni

Mariusz Kwiecień’s Don is more pensive quester than glib libertine or irrepressible rake, but his poise and good looks are effortlessly charming. His rich baritone is even and flexible, and complemented by a beautiful silky tone — showcased in a wonderful ‘Serenade’. Not surprising, then, that the woman are bewitched: who wouldn’t be charmed by the eloquent elegance of Kwiecień’s ‘Là ci darem la mano’?

Certainly, Donna Anna is in his thrall. Sung with unfailing power (a little too much at times?) by Swedish soprano Malin Byström, this Donna is a woman who knows her own mind, what she wants and how to get it. It’s clear from the opening moments that she is hot for Giovanni as he is for her; as her loyal Ottavio declares his adoration in ‘Dalla Sua Pace’ — “What pleases her gives life to me … joy I cannot know unless she shares it” — his tenders words are mocked by his betrothed’s heartless actions: Anna climbs the staircase for an assignation with the expectant, colluding Giovanni.

Byström was committed but sometimes the brightness of tone had a harder edge, and her Italian diction needs some work. That said, she more than mastered the technical challenges.

Véronique Gens’ Donna Elvira couples ardent passion with resentful fury. Although Gens offered an impassioned ‘Mi tradi’ — a fiery denouncement of the perfidious betrayer — with superb breath-control and dynamic variation, Elvira remained determined to believe the best (or ignore the worst) of the man who has deceived her. As Leporello recited the catalogue of inamoratas, she clutched Giovanni as if the warmth of her embrace might erase the evidence from the page. Gens’ stylish ornamentation was also exemplary.

DON_GIOVANNI-RO_446.pngMalin Byström as Donna Anna and Mariusz Kwiecień as Don Giovanni

Leporello was expertly sung and acted by Italian bass-baritone Alex Esposito, the above-mentioned catalogue aria suave and stylishly phrased. The sleazy servant’s roguery was credible and his vulnerability to the whims of his untrustworthy master touching. Esposito is fast making a name for himself as a consummate Mozartian — especially in this role — and it was a shame that the production does not offer more opportunity for him to showcase his skills as a master of musical comedy and irony.

Powerful, well-crafted singing from Italian tenor Antonio Poli gave stature to Don Ottavio, a character who can sometimes be over-shadowed by the charisma of his adversary and the hysterics of his affianced. ‘Dalla sua pace’ was particularly sweet of tone, and a delicately floated pianissimo was bestowed with heart-rending poignancy by the concurrent betrayal of his false-hearted Anna.

Elizabeth Watts’s Zerlina is no unworldly country girl; lively and vivacious, she is eager to submit to Giovanni’s advances — although it isn’t clear why, having succeeded in evading Masetto’s watchful surveillance, she should then felee from Giovanni’s embrace, tearing her dress to suggest an assault? Last minute doubts, or simply a tease? Watts’s voice was sumptuous but always polished; Dawid Kimberg’s Masetto, despite showing his potential for violent outburst when delivering Zerlina a vicious clout in a fit of jealousy, was no match for her guile in ‘Batti, batti’. Kimberg himself sang with attractive tone, musically precise and verbally crisp.

Making his house debut, Ukrainian bass Alexander Tsymbalyuk was impressive as the Commedatore. Although presented as a fabrication of Giovanni’s increasingly disorientated imagination, Tsymbalyuk — positioned aloft, above the figure of an eye — projected with commanding impact into the auditorium, dignified and intent on justice.

DON_GIOVANNI-RO_678.pngA scene from Don Giovanni

At the helm conductor Nicola Luisotti led the orchestra of the Royal Opera House vivaciously through the score; oddly, the brightness and grace of the orchestral playing was not matched by Luisotti’s own rather heavy-handed fortepiano-continuo, which was overly loud, flamboyantly intrusive and inappropriately dissonant at times.

It was a pity that such a large cut was deemed appropriate in the final scene. But, the conclusion itself was powerful: rather than the customary flames of damnation and desperate descent to Tartarean depths, Holten and Devlin fade to grey, the light and colour of life withdrawing, leaving Giovanni alone, arms-outstretched, uncomprehending. As the fugal chorus — much truncated — assails him from the wings, Giovanni is an isolated, confused figure, unable to make sense of a world indifferent to his experiences, recognising that the freedom he has enjoyed brings inescapable consequences.

Not a defiant nihilist, rather a man yearning for life: this dissoluto is certainly punito.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Don Giovanni, Mariusz Kwiecień; Leporello, Alex Esposito; Donna Anna, Malin Byström; Donna Elvira, Véronique Gens; Don Ottavio, Antonio Poli; Zerlina, Elizabeth Watts; Masetto, Dawid Kimberg, Commendatore, Alexander Tsymbalyuk; conductor, Nicola Luisotti; director, Kasper Holten; set designs, Es Devlin; video designs, Luke Halls; costume designs, Anja Vang Kragh; lighting designs, Bruno Poet; choreography, Signre Fabricus; fight director, Kate Waters; orchestra and chorus of the Royal Opera House. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Saturday 1st February 2014.

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):