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

Covent Garden’s Otello: Superb singing defies Warner’s uneven production

I have seen productions of Verdi’s Otello which have been revolutionary, even subversive. I have now seen one which is the complete antithesis of that.

Solomon’s Knot: Charpentier - A Christmas Oratorio

When Marc-Antoine Charpentier returned from Rome to Paris in 1669 or 1670, he found a musical culture in his native city that was beginning to reject the Italian style, which he had spent several years studying with the Jesuit composer Giacomo Carissimi, in favour of a new national style of music.

A Baroque Odyssey: 40 Years of Les Arts Florissants

In 1979, the Franco-American harpsichordist and conductor, William Christie, founded an early music ensemble, naming it Les Arts Florissants, after a short opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier.

Miracle on Ninth Avenue

Gian Carlo Menotti’s holiday classic, Amahl and the Night Visitors, was the first recorded opera I ever heard. Each Christmas Eve, while decorating the tree, our family sang along with the (still unmatched) original cast version. We knew the recording by heart, right down to the nicks in the LP. Ever since, no matter what the setting or the quality of a performance, I cannot get through it without tearing up.

Detlev Glanert: Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch (UK premiere)

It is perhaps not surprising that the Hamburg-born composer Detlev Glanert should count Hans Werner Henze as one of the formative influences on his work - he did, after all, study with him between 1984 to 1988.

Death in Venice at Deutsche Oper Berlin

This death in Venice is not the end, but the beginning.

Saint Cecilia: The Sixteen at Kings Place

There were eighteen rather than sixteen singers. And, though the concert was entitled Saint Cecilia the repertoire paid homage more emphatically to Mary, Mother of Jesus, and to the spirit of Christmas.

Liszt Petrarca Sonnets complete – Andrè Schuen, Daniel Heide

An ambitious new series focusing on the songs of Franz Liszt, starting with all three versions of the Tre Sonetti del Petrarca, (Petrarca Sonnets), S.270a, S.270b and S.161 with Andrè Schuen and Daniel Heide for Avi-music.de.

Insights on Mahler Lieder, Wigmore Hall, Andrè Schuen

At the Wigmore Hall, Andrè Schuen and Daniel Heide in a recital of Schubert and Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Rückert-Lieder. Schuen has most definitely arrived, at least among the long-term cognoscenti at the Wigmore Hall who appreciate the intelligence and sensitivity that marks true Lieder interpretation.

Ermelinda by San Francisco's Ars Minerva

It’s an opera by Vicentino composer Domenico Freschi that premiered in 1681 at the country home of the son of the doge of Venice. Villa Contarini is a couple of hours on horseback from Vicenza, and a few hours by gondola from Venice).

Wozzeck in Munich

It would be an extraordinary, even an unimaginable Wozzeck that failed to move, to chill one to the bone. This was certainly no such Wozzeck; Marie’s reading from the Bible, Wozzeck’s demise, the final scene with their son and the other children: all brought that particular Wozzeck combination of tears and horror.

Une soirée chez Berlioz – lyrical rarities, on Berlioz’s own guitar

Une soirée chez Berlioz – an evening with Berlioz, songs for voice, piano and guitar, with Stéphanie D’Oustrac, Thibaut Roussel (guitar), and Tanguy de Williencourt (piano).

Korngold's Die tote Stadt in Munich

I approached this evening as something of a sceptic regarding work and director. My sole prior encounter with Simon Stone’s work had not been, to put it mildly, a happy one. Nor do I count myself a subscriber or even affiliate to the Korngold fan club, considerable in number and still more considerable in fervency.

Exceptional song recital from Hurn Court Opera at Salisbury Arts Centre

Thanks to the enterprise and vision of Lynton Atkinson - Artistic Director of Dorset-based Hurn Court Opera - two promising young singers on the threshold of glittering careers gave an outstanding recital at Salisbury’s prestigious Art Centre.

Lohengrin in Munich

An exceptional Lohengrin, this. I had better explain. Yes, it was exceptional in the quality of much of the singing, especially the two principal female roles, yet also in luxury casting such as Martin Gantner as the King’s Herald.

Hansel and Gretel in San Francisco

This Grimm’s fairytale in its operatic version found its way onto the War Memorial stage in the guise of a new “family friendly” production first seen last holiday season at London’s Royal Opera House.

An hypnotic Death in Venice at the Royal Opera House

Spot-lit in the prevailing darkness, Gustav von Aschenbach frowns restively as he picks up an hour-glass from a desk strewn with literary paraphernalia, objects d’art, time-pieces and a pair of tall candles in silver holders - by the light of which, so Thomas Mann tells us in his novella Death in Venice, the elderly writer ‘would offer up to art, for two or three ardently conscientious morning hours, the strength he had garnered during sleep’.

A Baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi

A baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi, this year’s offering in their acclaimed Christmas series. Great value for money - four CDs of music so good that it shouldn’t be saved just for Christmas. The prize here, though is the Pastorale de Noël by Marc-Antoine Charpentier with Ensemble Correspondances, with Sébastien Daucé, highly acclaimed on its first release just a few years ago.

Philip Glass's Orphée at English National Opera

Jean Cocteau’s 1950 Orphée - and Philip Glass’s chamber opera based on the film - are so closely intertwined it should not be a surprise that this new production for English National Opera often seems unable to distinguish the two. There is never a shred of ambiguity that cinema and theatre are like mirrors, a recurring feature of this production; and nor is there much doubt that this is as opera noir it gets.

Rapt audience at Dutch National Opera’s riveting Walküre

“Don’t miss this final chance – ever! – to see Die Walküre”, urges the Dutch National Opera website.

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):