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

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

The Merry Widow at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its latest production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) featuring Renée Fleming /Nicole Cabell as the widow Hanna Glawari and Thomas Hampson as Count Danilo Danilovich.

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):