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 Reviews

La Périchole in Marseille

The most notable of all Péricholes of Offenbach’s sentimental operetta is surely the legendary Hortense Schneider who created the role back in 1868 at Paris’ Théâtre des Varietés. Alas there is no digital record.

Three Centuries Collide: Widmann, Ravel and Beethoven

It’s very rare that you go to a concert and your expectation of it is completely turned on its head. This was one of those. Three works, each composed exactly a century apart, beginning and ending with performances of such clarity and brilliance.

Seventeenth-century rhetoric from The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

‘Yes, in my opinion no rhetoric more persuadeth or hath greater power over the mind; hath not Musicke her figures, the same which Rhetorique? What is a but her Antistrophe? her reports, but sweet Anaphora's? her counterchange of points, Antimetabole's? her passionate Aires but Prosopopoea's? with infinite other of the same nature.’

Hrůša’s Mahler: A Resurrection from the Golden Age

Jakub Hrůša has an unusual gift for a conductor and that is to make the mightiest symphony sound uncommonly intimate. There were many moments during this performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony where he grappled with its monumental scale while reducing sections of it to chamber music; times when the power of his vision might crack the heavens apart and times when a velvet glove imposed the solitude of prayer.

Full-Throated Troubador Serenades San José

Verdi’s sublimely memorable melodies inform and redeem his setting of the dramatically muddled Il Trovatore, the most challenging piece to stage of his middle-period successes.

Opera North deliver a chilling Turn of the Screw

Storm Dennis posed no disruption to this revival of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, first unveiled at Leeds Grand Theatre in 2010, but there was plenty of emotional turbulence.

Luisa Miller at English National Opera

Verdi's Luisa Miller occupies an important position in the composer's operatic output. Written for Naples in 1849, the work's genesis was complex owing to problems with the theatre and the Neapolitan censors.

Eugène Onéguine in Marseille

A splendid 1997 provincial production of Tchaikovsky’s take on Pushkin’s Bryonic hero found its way onto a major Provençal stage just now. The historic Opéra Municipal de Marseille possesses a remarkable acoustic that allowed the Pushkin verses to flow magically through Tchaikovsky’s ebullient score.

Opera Undone: Tosca and La bohème

If opera can sometimes seem unyieldingly conservative, even reactionary, it made quite the change to spend an evening hearing and seeing something which was so radically done.

A refined Acis and Galatea at Cadogan Hall

The first performance of Handel's two-act Acis and Galatea - variously described as a masque, serenata, pastoral or ‘little opera’ - took place in the summer of 1718 at Cannons, the elegant residence of James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos.

Lise Davidsen: A superlative journey through the art of song

Are critics capable of humility? The answer should always be yes, yet I’m often surprised how rare it seems to be. It took the film critic of The Sunday Times, Dilys Powell, several decades to admit she had been wrong about Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, a film excoriated on its release in 1960. It’s taken me considerably less time - and largely because of this astounding recital - to realise I was very wrong about Lise Davidsen.

Parsifal in Toulouse

Aurélien Bory, director of a small, avant garde theater company in Toulouse, staged a spellbinding Parsifal at the Théâtre du Capitole, Toulouse’s famed Orchestre National du Capitole in the pit — FYI the Capitole is Toulouse’s city hall, the opera house is a part of it.

An Evening with Rosina Storchio: Ermonela Jaho at Wigmore Hall

‘The world’s most acclaimed Soprano’: the programme booklet produced for Ermonela Jaho’s Wigmore Hall debut was keen to emphasise the Albanian soprano’s prestigious status, as judged by The Economist, and it was standing-room only at the Hall which was full to capacity with Jaho’s fervent fans and opera-lovers.

Schumann Symphonies, influenced by song

John Eliot Gardiner's Schumann series with the London Symphony Orchestra, demonstrate the how Schumann’s Lieder and piano music influenced his approach to symphonic form and his interests in music drama.

Parsifal in Palermo

Richard Wagner chose to finish his Good Friday opera while residing in Sicily’s Palermo, partaking of the natural splendors of its famed verdant basin, the Conca d’Oro, and reveling in the golden light of its surreal Monreale cathedral.

Vladimir Jurowski conducts a magnificent Siegfried

“Siegfried is the Man of the Future, the man we wish, the man we will, but cannot make, and the man who must create himself through our annihilation.” This was Richard Wagner, writing in 1854, his thoughts on Siegfried. The hero of Wagner’s Siegfried, however, has quite some journey to travel before he gets to the vision the composer described in that letter to August Roeckel. Watching Torsten Kerl’s Siegfried in this - largely magnificent - concert performance one really wondered how tortuous a journey this would be.

I Capuleti e i Montecchi in Rome

Shakespearean sentiments may gracefully enrich Gounod’s Romeo et Juliet, but powerful Baroque tensions enthrall us in the bel canto complexities of Vincenzo Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Conductor Daniele Gatti’s offered a truly fine bel canto evening at Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera introducing a trio of fine young artists.

Santtu-Matias Rouvali makes versatile debut with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Finnish conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali has been making waves internationally for some time. The chief conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra is set to take over from Esa-Pekka Salonen as principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in 2021.

Tristan und Isolde in Bologna

East German stage director Ralf Pleger promised us a Tristan unlike anything we had ever seen. It was indeed. And Slovakian conductor Jura Valčuha gave us a Tristan as never before heard. All of this just now in the most Wagnerian of all Italian cities — Bologna!


Seductively morbid – The Fall of the House of Usher in The Hague

What does it feel like to be depressed? “It’s like water seeping into my heart” is how one young sufferer put it.

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):