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 Reviews

A Donizetti world premiere: Opera Rara at the Royal Opera House

There may be sixty or so operas by Donizetti to choose from, but if you’ve put together the remnants of another one, why not give everyone a chance to hear it? And so, Opera Rara brought L’Ange de Nisida to the concert stage last night, 180 years after it was composed for the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris, conductor Sir Mark Elder leading a team of bel canto soloists and the Choir and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in a committed and at times stirring performance.

A stellar Ariadne auf Naxos at Investec Opera Holland Park

Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos is a strange operatic beast. Originally a Molière-Hofmannsthal-Strauss hybrid, the 1916 version presented in Vienna ditched Le bourgeois gentilhomme, which had preceded an operatic telling of the Greek myth of Ariadne and Theseus, and replaced it with a Prologue in which buffa met seria as competing factions prepared to present an entertainment for ‘the richest man in Vienna’. He’s a man who has ordered two entertainments, to follow an epicurean feast, and he wants these dramatic digestifs served simultaneously.

PROM 5: Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande

Stefan Herheim’s production of Debussy’s magnificent 1902 opera for Glyndebourne has not been universally acclaimed. The Royal Albert Hall brought with it, in this semi-staged production, a different set of problems - and even imitated some of the production’s original ones, notably the vast shadow of the organ which somewhat replicates Glyndebourne’s 1920’s Organ Room, and by a huge stretch of the imagination the forest in which so much of the opera’s action is set.

Thought-Provoking Concert in Honor of Bastille Day

Sopranos Elise Brancheau and Shannon Jones, along with pianists Martin Néron and Keith Chambers, presented a thrilling evening of French-themed music in an evening entitled: “Salut à la France,” at the South Oxford Space in Brooklyn this past Saturday, July 14th.

Dido in Deptford: Blackheath Halls Community Opera

Polly Graham’s vision of Dido and Aeneas is earthy, vigorous and gritty. The artistic director of Longborough Festival Opera has overseen a production which brings together professional soloists, students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and a cast of more than 80 south-east London adults and children for this, the 12th, annual Blackheath Halls Community Opera.

Summer madness and madcap high jinxs from the Jette Parker Young Artists

The operatic extracts which comprised this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance seemed to be joined by a connecting thread - madness: whether that was the mischievousness of Zerbinetta’s comedy troupe, the insanity of Tom Rakewell, the metaphysical distress of Hamlet, or the mayhem prompted by Isabella’s arrival at Mustafà’s Ottoman palace, the ‘insanity’ was equally compelling.

Mascagni's Isabeau rides again at Investec Opera Holland Park

There seemed to me to be something distinctly Chaucerian about Martin Lloyd-Evans’ new production of Mascagni’s Isabeau (the first UK production of the opera) for Investec Opera Holland Park.

The 2018 BBC Proms opens in flamboyant fashion

Anniversaries and commemorations will, as usual, feature significantly during the 2018 BBC Proms, with the works of Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger all prominently programmed during the season’s myriad orchestral, vocal and chamber concerts.

Banff’s Hell of an Orphée+

Against the Grain Theatre brought its award winning adaptation of Gluck’s opera to the Banff Festival billed as “an electronic baroque burlesque descent into hell.”

A Choral Trilogy at the Aix Festival

What Seven Stones (the amazing accentus / axe 21), and Dido and Aeneas (the splendid Ensemble Pygmalion) and Orfeo & Majnun (the ensemble [too many to count] of eleven local amateur choruses) share, and virtually nothing else, is spectacular use of chorus.

Vintage Audi — Parsifal, Kaufmann, Pape

From the Bayerisches Staatsoper Munich, Wagner Parsifal with a dream cast - René Pape, Jonas Kaufmann and Nina Stemme, Christian Gerhaher and Wolfgang Koch, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, directed by Pierre Audi. The production is vintage Audi - stylized, austere, but solidly thought-through.

Flight Soars High in Des Moines

Jonathan Dove’s innovative opera Flight is being lavished with an absolutely riveting new production at Des Moines Metro Opera’s resoundingly successful 2018 Festival.

Fledermaus Pops the Cork in Iowa

Like a fizzy bottle of champagne, Des Moines Metro Opera uncorked a zesty tasting of Johan Strauss’s vintage Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

A spritely summer revival of Falstaff at the ROH

Robert Carson’s 2012 ROH Falstaff is a bit of a hotchpotch, but delightful nevertheless. The panelled oak, exuding Elizabethan ambience, of the first Act’s gravy-stained country club reeks of the Wodehouse-ian 1930s, but has also has to serve as the final Act’s grubby stable and the Forest of Windsor, while the central Act is firmly situated in the domestic perfection of Alice Ford’s 1950s kitchen.

Down on the Farm with Des Moines’ Copland

Ingenious Des Moines Metro Opera continued its string of site-specific hits with an endearing production of Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land on the grounds of the Maytag Dairy farm.

Des Moines’ Ravishing Rusalka

Let me get right to the point: This is the Rusalka I have been waiting for all my life.

L'Ange de feu (The Fiery Angel)
in Aix

Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel is rarely performed. This new Aix Festival production to be shared with Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki exemplifies why.

Ariane à Naxos (Ariadne auf Naxos) in Aix

Yes, of course British stage director Katie Mitchell served up Richard Strauss’ uber tragic Ariadne on Naxos at a dinner table. Over the past few years Mme. Mitchell has staged quite a few household tragedies at the Aix Festival, mostly at dinner tables, though some on doorsteps.

The Skating Rink: Garsington Opera premiere

Having premiered Roxanna Panufnik’s opera Silver Birch in 2017 as part of its work with local community groups, Garsington Opera’s 2018 season included its first commission for the main opera season. David Sawer's The Skating Rink premiered at Garsington Opera this week; the opera is based on the novel by Chilean writer Roberto Bolano with a libretto by playwright Rory Mullarkey.

Madama Butterfly at the Princeton Festival

The Princeton Festival brings a run of three high-quality opera performances to town each summer, alternating between a modern opera and a traditional warhorse. John Adams’ Nixon in China has been announced for next summer. So this year Princeton got Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, for which the Festival assembled an impressive cast and delivered a polished performance.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Don Giovanni</em>, ROH, Covent Garden
01 Jul 2018

Mozart: Don Giovanni, Royal Opera House

There is something very Danish about this Don Giovanni. It isn’t just that the director, Kasper Holten is a Dane, it’s also that the existential, moral and psychological questions Holten asks point to Kierkegaard who wrote of the fusion of the erotic and demonic in this opera in his work Either/Or (1843). However, I’ve rarely, if ever, encountered a production of Don Giovanni - even Bieito’s notorious one for ENO - where Mozart comes off as second best.

Don Giovanni, ROH, Covent Garden

A review by Marc Bridle

Above: Don Giovanni, at The Royal Opera House

Photo credit: Bill Cooper

 

Holten’s Don Giovanni is entirely about making the most of Es Devlin’s sets - and he does so even before the Overture, as lugubrious as any I’ve heard, has even ended. Devlin’s sets are undeniably imposing - a vast colonnaded front, with balconies and endless doors, balustrades and hallways linked by stairways that disappear into infinity. At times I had difficulty deciding whether I was looking in on a Romanesque temple or the set of Hush… Hush Sweet Charlotte and the Hollis Mansion in its antebellum, southern Louisiana horror. But just as Altman’s 1964 film had been a study in psychological breakdown, of seeing ghosts at the top of staircases, Holten extends his cinematic journey into his Don Giovanni still further by drawing us into Hitchcock’s 1945 study into psychoanalysis and surrealism, Spellbound, with his own Dali-inspired Don Giovanni aria ‘Fin ch’han dal vino’ with the Don as the centre of the eye amid a converging point of infinite distances.

If Holten’s production shares one thing with Bieito’s it is that both are somewhat voyeuristic in their views of the opera, very much comfortable with the objectification of sexuality. From the outset, Luke Halls’s video design (this is very much a production for the digital age) gives us a running count of the Don’s sexual conquests - and there are so many of them, they cover not only every inch of the outside of the walls, but the inside too… from the sides of staircases, the steps themselves, furniture, even objects on tables. Echoing Escher’s stairs, the geometric set reflects a sense of perspective and depth to this endless pornography. This graffiti leaves an almost permanent stain throughout the entire opera, a reminder that Don Giovanni’s existential sexuality is based entirely on deceit and immorality embedded as it is deep within his psyche. It’s no coincidence that his principle lovers are also damaged goods - the cluster of ink blots on their dresses, Rorschach-like, but also reminders of sex itself. When the litany of names are erased it’s to soak the walls in crimson blood, or drench them in the bleakness of Don Giovanni’s mental psychosis.

BC DG image.jpeg Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

Musically, this Don Giovanni is a bit of a mess. Textually, it is neither the complete Vienna nor the Prague edition, nor the usual mixture of both - and many will find excising ‘ Questo è il fin di chi fa mal’ from the end troubling, though I think it better meets Holten’s objectives for this production to exclude it. Holten’s Don is so psychologically flawed, so concerned with projecting his pain onto others and using his sexual narcissism to seduce almost everyone he encounters into complicity, that his descent into madness at the end seems a more fitting conclusion. Holten’s Don is morally corrupt, but as Kierkegaard also suggests desire is “victorious, triumphant, irresistible and demonic”. The comparison with Faust is completely unambiguous and, rather as the French novelist Jean Genet was fond of suggesting when describing his own views on sex, this is a Don who is in it for the chase alone.

The casting of Covent Garden’s revival is fairly strong, and, frankly, it needs to be to fight against Marc Minkowski’s interminable and heavy-handed approach he takes with much of the score; I thought Act I was never going to end. This approach to the music doesn’t sit comfortably with the dramatic visual changes that Luke Halls’s video design and Bruno Poet’s lighting is presenting on stage - often what the eye is seeing isn’t corresponding very closely to what the ears are hearing. Minkowski didn’t always generate much enthusiasm from the orchestra either, so it was perhaps all the more surprising that the singing itself was often of a very high standard indeed.

Mariusz Kwiecień as Don Giovanni.jpegMariusz Kwiecień as Don Giovanni. Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

The Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecień is the kind of Don Giovanni that seems ideally suited to Kasper Holten’s production. In many ways, I found his assumption of the part quite disturbing - he’s dynamically sexual, a prowler, but the trajectory towards his mania is like watching a breakdown happening in slow motion so deeply does he explore the depths of the character’s underlying psychology. The voice is superb as well, a dark, true baritone - like Eberhard Waechter’s - able to explore the demonic and seductive sides of the Don’s personality. He was nowhere better than in his final confrontation with the Commendatore, imperious of tone, the technique immaculate, with just enough spine-chilling darkness to the voice. Perhaps he was fortunate that his Leporello was Ildebrando D’Arcangelo. Kwiecień and D’Arcangelo often subverted the master/servant equation, so much so that Joseph Losey’s The Servant seemed like a model for their unbalanced relationship, even with its latent hints of an uneasy masculine derived sexuality. Although he sometimes looked as if he had fallen out of a Chicago Sleep Easy, D’Arcangelo moved with breath-taking ease between being a figure capable of easy-going humour one moment, and disturbing violence the next. More so than in many productions, Holten views his Leporello as a tragic shadow of Don Giovanni himself - even the similarities in the voices that both these singers share suggested a much closer alignment to their fates than normal.

Rachel Willis-Sørensen, as Donna Anna, never sounds vocally stretched (as can sometimes happen with this role) and is as lyrical as she luminous. Hrachuhi Bassenz, as Donna Elvira, is done with considerable intensity at times, almost as if she is on the edge of hysteria. As with many of Holten’s characterisations in this production, there is a sense that his women, especially, are being driven into a kind OCD pattern of sexual behaviour - coming back for more of the same, even though it is pushing them into damaging psychological breakdowns. Both Donna Anna and Donna Elvira are more complex women than we usually see in this opera, even if what we see is quite disturbing.

As for the rest of the cast, Willard W. White, as the Commendatore, perhaps lacks the depth of tone he once had to command the stage but was compelling, especially in his showdown with Kwiecień - even if he looked as if he had risen from George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, taking to stalking Don Giovanni around the corridors like a zombie. Pavol Breslik was a beautifully lyrical Don Ottavio, and convincingly handsome, Chen Reiss a somewhat matronly Zerlina, and Anatoli Sivko a sonorous, if ultimately unsympathetic Masetto.

Holten’s Don Giovanni probes deep, and Es Devlin’s sets, dizzying though they are - quite literally - are visually spectacular. The entire opera is a tour de force for its lighting engineers and someone working on a laptop, but the length of time we are asked to engage in looking at the staging borders on the cinematographic rather than operatic. Likewise, the demands that Holten places on his audience and the questions he asks squarely place Mozart the composer second. On opening night, the cast sang well despite the conductor, not because of him - in other circumstances this production might well be not so fortunate.

Further performances 3rd July until 17th July 2018.

Marc Bridle

Mariusz Kwiecień - Don Giovanni, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo - Leporello, Rachel Willis-Sørensen - Donna Anna, Pavol Breslik - Don Ottavio, Hrachuhi Bassenz - Donna Elvira, Chen Reiss - Zerlina, Anatoli Sivko - Masetto, Willard W. White - Commendatore; Kasper Holten - Director, Amy Lane - Revival Director, Marc Minkowski - Conductor, Es Devlin - Set Director, Luke Halls - Video Design, Bruno Poet - Lighting Design, Orchestra of Royal Opera House.

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Friday 29th June 2018.

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):