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Damiano Michieletto’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni for the Teatro La Fenice could suggest a certain restraint in its cold colours, entirely indoors setting and elegant boiseries, but the nightly atmosphere proves to be a space of unbridled passion: Don Giovanni’s assault on Donna Anna is extremely violent, the Commendatore is beaten to death with his own walking stick, the peasants in Zerlina and Masetto’s wedding are heavily drunk and the closing scene is no feast, but a quite graphic orgy. Michieletto has a good instinct for character development and, with excellent acting from all involved, sheds interesting light on every figure, particularly Donna Anna, whose Or sai chi l’onore is a nightmarish vortex of guilt and passion in which the first scene is revived in an atmosphere of  unavowable desire, whereas Non mi dir is a statement of love not to Don Ottavio, but to her own father’s coffin. Similarly, Zerlina sings Vedrai, carino to an imaginary Don Giovanni, while Masetto is left alone to take care of his wounds. Still more interesting is the tormented Leporello, (nervous tics and stammer included) whose guilty vices are repressed by social inferiority. In the end, only Don Giovanni himself is rather clichéed in his my-candle-burns-at-both-ends manic, almost suicidal drive.

If the intelligent and often revelatory approach does not finally delivers the goods, it is because the director is ultimately too simplistic in his partiality for Don Giovanni as an image of every one’s repressed desires. Some of the evening’s less efficient scenes invariably involved Don Giovanni’s “symbolic” appearances, such as when he quite sillily pushes everyone on stage to the ground as an invisible force during the sextet Sola, sola in buio loco.

Conductor Antonello Manacorda is an alert Mozartian who understands the theatrical and musical meaning of every phrase in the score without being overwhelmed by his understanding. His tempi are swift and his orchestral sound is transparent and flexible. Most important, the right expressive atmosphere is settled for every scene – the orchestra laughs at Masetto, sighs with Donna Elvira and sobs with Donna Anna. I would be curious to hear him with a more virtuoso ensemble. Although La Fenice’s orchestra has done a decent job, the strings lack refulgence to start with, especially in passagework, and some complex ensemble were not perfectly synched.

Aleksandra Kurzak’s flexible bright soprano is light-toned for Donna Anna. Or sai chi l’onore takes her to her very limits and, although she is never less than stylish, sensitive and pleasant to the ears, her top notes have become a bit breathy and glassy. This lovely artist should be more careful with her choice of roles and void the temptation of parts that will eventually take their toll on her vocal health. In any case, the audience should cherish the occasion to hear such clean coloratura in a difficult aria such as Non mi dir. Carmela Remigio’s high-lying soprano resents the lower tessitura of Donna Elvira. In this production, she is portrayed as a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and I wished that this approach did not elicit from the singer the gusty phrasing, the erratic pitch and the parlando effects. In the end, her Elvira was one-dimensionally intense and unstylish. Irini Kyriakidou has a basically fruity, sexy soprano (she herself is really attractive too), but her high register spreads uncomfortably. Marlin Miller is a capable Don Ottavio who took some time to warm (Dalla sua pace lacked finish). His voice, especially in loud dynamics, does not sound round as a lyric tenor’s should, but rather metallic in a Spieltenor-like manner, though. Markus Werba’s Don Giovanni is devoid of nuance, and his baritone is too open-toned to suggest seduction. But he does have stamina. Alex Exposito’s voice seems to have shrunken at both ends since I last saw him in this same role. The general impression is of roughness, what unintentionally suits this production. Finally, Atilla Jun proved to be a powerful Commendatore.

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