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

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

The doors at The Metropolitan Opera will not open to live audiences until 2021 at the earliest, and the likelihood of normal operatic life resuming in cities around the world looks but a distant dream at present. But, while we may not be invited from our homes into the opera house for some time yet, with its free daily screenings of past productions and its pay-per-view Met Stars Live in Concert series, the Met continues to bring opera into our homes.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Precipice: The Grange Festival

Music-making at this year’s Grange Festival Opera may have fallen silent in June and July, but the country house and extensive grounds of The Grange provided an ideal setting for a weekend of twelve specially conceived ‘promenade’ performances encompassing music and dance.

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

03 Jun 2019

Don Giovanni at Garsington Opera

A violent splash of black paint triggers the D minor chord which initiates the Overture. The subsequent A major dominant is a startling slash of red. There follows much artistic swishing and swirling by Don Giovanni-cum-Jackson Pollock. The down-at-heel artist’s assistant, Leporello, assists his Master, gleefully spraying carmine oil paint from a paint-gun. A ‘lady in red’ joins in, graffiti-ing ‘WOMAN’ across the canvas. The Master and the Woman slip through a crimson-black aperture; the frame wobbles.

Don Giovanni: Garsington Opera 2019

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Jonathan McGvern (Don Giovanni)

Photo credit: Johan Persson

 

In comparison with the engaging, comforting business which populated the overture to The Bartered Bride the previous evening, the overture foreplay which director Michael Boyd has devised for his new production of Don Giovanni at Garsington Opera unsettles and generates questions and debate.

It’s both enigmatic and edgy. On the one hand, one asks what the visual display has to do with the drama that one hears being prepared in the orchestral overture; especially as Garsington’s Artistic Director, Dougie Boyd, conducts the Garsington Opera Orchestra with a taut baton that whips up real fire from the light chattering, then, with dramatic fluency, lets the fierceness subside into flowing melody. Then again, the notion of Don Giovanni as an ‘artist’ whose vision raises him above mere ‘mortals’, granting him privileges and prerogatives which some might see as abusive, is not an inapt trope for the modern age.

Masetto and Zerlina.jpg Thomas Faulkner (Masetto), Mireille Asselin (Zerlina) and Garsington Opera Chorus. Photo credit: Johan Persson.

Designer Tom Piper places the action in Don Giovanni’s grand atelier; spacious and airy, it would be the envy of many a struggling young artist. Alongside the Pollock-splashes rest huge canvases à la Manet and Claude Lorraine - the latter are perhaps useful subsequently, in hinting at the original ‘rural peasant’ status of Masetto, Zerlina and their buddies. Painters’ scaffolding protrudes behind the framed masterpieces and will later emerge like a children’s giant climbing-frame.

The opening is striking and thought-provoking. The challenge, though, is to sustain the concept, and here almost immediately the dramatic continuity is broken, when Don Giovanni emerges clutching Donna Anna, who seeks to evade his predatory embrace, and not Donna Elvira, who had so obligingly joined him behind the canvas.

For a while, Boyd tries to sustain the metaphor. The Commendatore appears wearing what look like pale-blue pyjamas (the sun is blazing outside the Garsington pavilion) and is promptly murdered by the splattering emissions of a fire extinguisher filled with crimson-red gouache … it certainly looks very bloody, and there’s lots of mopping up for Leporello and Don Giovanni’s black-clad protection-officer heavies to turn their brooms and sponges to (doubtless health and safety intervened here, too).

David Ireland (Leporello).jpgDavid Ireland (Leporello). Photo credit: Johan Persson.

Thereafter, though, art - in a visual sense - is largely forgotten and we return to da Ponte’s original tale. This would-be Andy Warhol or Damien Hirst wears a red and gold brocade coat and, the masked trio tell us, is armed with a sword. Admittedly, the Don whips out a camera to entice Elvira’s maid down from her balcony - references to Mario Testino, Terry Richardson and Bruce Weber et al, here, perhaps? And, the grand masterpieces serve as a graffiti playground when, during the dancing and drinking they are crudely defaced with black paint. In Act 3 the Commendatore’s gravestone is a grey-white canvas upon which Donna Anna daubs: “Here I wait for vengeance on the faithless man who murdered me”. As night draws in during the second half, there are chiaroscuro effects (lighting - Malcolm Rippeth) of which Caravaggio would be proud.

But, on the whole, the concept languishes. And, there’s little direction of either soloists or chorus: the wide Garsington stage is a big space for singers to be left standing about. In the catalogue aria, Elvira and Leporello simply squat on her silver suitcase and look through the Don’s little black book. In ‘Là ci darem la mano’, though the shortening, then overlapping, phrases of the music bring the lustful Giovanni and the tempted Zerlina ever-closer, here we they keep a tense distancing: a red carpet is unfurled to lure Zerlina to the Don’s ‘palace’, but the characters remain 20 feet apart; despite asking for Zerlina’s ‘hand’, Giovanni seems to have his own in his pockets.

Jonathan McGovern Don Giovanni.jpgJonathan McGovern (Don Giovanni). Photo credit: Johan Persson.

On the previous evening, the chorus scenes in The Bartered Bride had been choreographed to crossed-‘t’ and dotted-‘i’ perfection but remained naturalistically engaging. Here, the choruses were disordered and the movements seemingly random: perhaps that was the intent, but the music - in the dance sequences especially - speaks of patterns which represent hierarchies, to be sustained or smashed depending on your political point-of-view: “Viva la libertà!” the masqueraders cry.

And, speaking of social hierarches, this is one aspect of the opera that is dissolved by the artist’s paint stripper. Don Giovanni may tell Zerlina that he’s a gentleman, but his swagger, tight black ti-shirt and silver chain speak more of East End barrow-boy turned City trader. Jonathan McGovern - last year’s Papageno - gesticulates with a flourish, spins extravagantly and throws a mean punch. He might be addressed as “His Lordship”, “His Excellency”, but he is no aristocrat, though. McGovern sang with strong tone, a flexible line and dramatic colour. Don Giovanni’s champagne aria may have been delivered at a fairly steady tempo, but this ensured clarity and accuracy. But, this Don is not regal or refined: in Act 3 he stuffs down fistfuls of the takeaway chicken and chips that the put-upon Leporello has served up, smothering them in ketchup seemingly dispensed from a giant paint-gun, with the same reckless abandon with which he had killed the Commendatore. Nor is he a ‘seducer’; bully, braggart and bruiser, perhaps, but romancer, no.

Fortunately, the cast’s singing is accomplished. David Ireland’s Leporello is beaten and abused - and such thuggery further coarsens his ‘Lordship’ - but he sang with defiance and strong character. Ireland and McGovern have quite a similar tone and range, which worked well when master and servant swapped clothes: in the wooing scene, as he manically mimicked his ‘off-stage’ master’s gestures, Ireland introduced a welcome comic note into this dramma giocoso.

Camilla Titinger (Donna Anna), Trystan Llyr Griffiths (Don Ottavio).jpgCamilla Titinger (Donna Anna), Trystan Llŷr Griffiths (Don Ottavio). Photo credit: Johan Persson.

Trystan Llŷr Griffith’s Ottavio was a strong presence in the ensembles and deservedly got to sing both of his arias, in which he demonstrated sensitive variation and gradation of colour, warmth and strength: he earned his rich applause. But, it was a shame that just as his second aria, ‘Il mio tesoro’, in which Ottavio attests to his determination to make sure that Donna Anna gets her revenge on her father’s assassin, had to battle against the distraction of Donna Anna’s art vandalism, so during ‘Dalla sua pace’ Anna’s entry into the audience-space and her ascent of the wooden aisle risked diverting attention from the vocal prowess and sensitivity on stage.

Camilla Titinger had some fine moments as Donna Anna, and these were warmly appreciated by the audience; but there were some tuning problems, and her projection was inconsistent: I found her less than communicative in the recitatives and ensembles. That said, Donna Anna’s ‘Non mi dir’, though perhaps a little slow, was expressive.

Mireille Asselin took a while to warm up dramatically as Zerlina - initially it didn’t seem as if she had any genuine affection for Masetto or real attraction to Don Giovanni - but when she got into her stride, she found her musico-dramatic shoes and wore them with style. ‘Vedrai, carino’ was particularly persuasive and beautifully sung. Thomas Faulkner sang strongly as Masetto, his fluency and appealing tone complementing Masetto’s naivety and vulnerability.

Sky Ingram was a terrific Donna Elvira. She sang with a winning combination of strong and colourful emotion and control of melodic line; ‘Mi tradi quell’alma ingrata’ was one of the evening’s highlights. This was no hysterical abandonata or a seria parody; this Elvira was a real flesh and blood woman, very ‘modern’ in many senses, and sincere in her desire to speak out and protect others.

Sky Ingram (Donna Elvira).jpg Sky Ingram (Donna Elvira). Photo credit: Johan Persson.

Paul Whelan’s Commendatore didn’t make much of a mark in Act 1 - perhaps it’s difficult to be imposing when felled by a fire extinguisher. But, he came into his own in Act 3, singing with refinement and ‘human’ feeling, if perhaps lacking a little in menace.

The close, though, failed to make its blood-chilling mark. And, this was, uncharacteristically, partly due to the slow tempi adopted by Dougie Boyd in the final sequence of scenes. Perhaps we’re talking miniscule ‘measurements’ here, but from the moment when Leporello reports to his master that the statue’s head has nodded, everything felt just a fraction too ponderous, and dramatic momentum was lost. Deprived of the epilogue ‘motto’, the ending - Don Giovanni was dragged down to hell on a backward-sliding painter’s ladder - was anticlimactic.

This felt like an opportunity lost. While Paul Curran the previous evening had drilled everything to such perfection that we didn’t notice the artifice, here the cogs chugged, sputtered and then ran out of steam. Michael Boyd’s conceptual seed was not without promise, but he didn’t water it with sufficient consistency or discipline to enable it to flower as it might.

Claire Seymour

Don Giovanni - Jonathan McGovern, Leporello - David Ireland, Donna Anna - Camila Titinger, Donna Elvira - Sky Ingram, Don Ottavio - Trystan Llŷr Griffiths, Commendatore - Paul Whelan, Zerlina - Mireille Asselin, Masetto - Thomas Faulkner; Director - Michael Boyd, Conductor - Douglas Boyd, Designer - Tom Piper, Lighting Designer - Malcolm Rippeth, Movement Director/Choreographer - Liz Ranken, Garsington Opera Orchestra & Chorus.

Garsington Opera; Saturday 1st June 2019.

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):