Posts Tagged ‘Mozart’s Don Giovanni’

Expectations can play tricks with our opinions. When I bought a ticket for this Don Giovanni, starting only three hours after a complete performance of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, I was not still convinced that I would really use it: I’ve never had luck with Don Giovanni at the Met and there were just a couple of names in the cast that seemed to make it worthwhile. But I’ve made it and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. If someone is responsible for my good impression, this is primarily Fabio Luisi, who offered an exemplary big-house Mozart performance, showing how flexible the Met’s opera violins can be, highlighting woodwinds as it should be and keeping the natural rhythmic flow, while using the power of a big orchestra to create the right theatrical effect. He also proved to be very attentive to his singers, helping them to make their best. For some members of the cast, this was more than providential – it was life-saving.

It is puzzling that, although this evening’s was far from being a dream team for this opera, it delivered the goods somehow. As a matter of fact, the problems were to be found more on the ladies’ side. I won’t deny that I was not very happy about the possibility of seeing Hibla Gerzmava as Donna Anna for the second time. Last time in Moscow was not truly compelling, and it was a good surprise to see how much she has developed this part since then. She still sounds hooty and hard-pressed when things get high and fast (and her dealing with coloratura is more a matter of resolve than of technical abandon), but her pronunciation of Italian language, her textual clarity and dramatic purpose are undeniably improved. She could more often than not produce Mozartian phrase of unusual purity and power and, whenever that happened, the effect was almost Golden Age standard. I don’t know if this was the influence of Luisi, but I noticed an effort to avoid pressing hard the tone (what invariably brought about what I called in Moscow a Mara Zampieri-ish hoot). If am not mistaken, the effort is paying off. Although Malin Byström’s soprano is becoming too smoky (not to say airy in a way that tampers with her ability to hold long lines without too many breathing pauses), her understanding of Donna Elvira’s mezzo carattere is very refreshing. And the fact that she sings her big aria in the original tone has unfortunately become something that one should praise these days. Serena Malfi’s high register is harsh and intonation can be iffy – and yet it is refreshing to hear a Zerlina that sounds earthy and who does not steal the show in “aristocratic” Mozartian poise. Paul Appleby, whose Belmonte early this year was a bit shaky, shows improvements too: his control of mezza voce was impressive. If only he could avoid unstylish portamento and the odd explosive high note, he could be an impeccable Don Ottavio. Simon Keenlyside was, for a while, the world’s favourite Don Giovanni – and he still can make a grand impression in the part. I had never seen Adam Plachetka before and I am glad I could hear his Leporello, not only the most compelling performance this evening, but one of the best I’ve seen in this role. His baritone is rich, large and, if it can be too grainy sometimes, it is pleasant in the ear – and he has amazingly (really – Caballé-sian) long breath. And he handles the text with perfect comedy timing, without clowniness and offering something really funny instead. Bravo. Matthew Rose too was a funny and vocally solid Leporello and Kwangchul Young sounded almost frighteningly dark as the Commendatore.

Michael Grandage’s production is traditional in concept and a bit dull visually, but if Spielleiter Louisa Muller was faithful to the concept (this was premiered in 2011), it is extremely well directed: sometimes one felt at a loss of which actor to follow, so interesting and dramatically coherent was everyone’s gestures and attitudes.


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When a theatre has the name of Constantin Stanislavsky, one expects to find acting of a certain level in any of its performances – and I have not been disappointed this evening. Although sets and costumes in Alexander Titel new production makes one think of stagings as one would find in European theatres in the 1970’s, the approach sounds fresh in the detailed Personenregie and the attention to Lorenzo da Ponte’s text rendered in a way that makes complete sense for audiences nowadays. Although I dislike the idea of Donna Anna as a hypocrite who would overlook the murder of her own father for a fatal attraction, this has been shown in a way that at least makes some sense. It is also very courageous to show Donna Elvira as the mezzo carattere role she really is, even if the seriousness in Mi tradì felt somewhat contrived. I have never seen such an all-round convincing  portrait of Zerlina as today. Here she is definitely earthy, ready to have fun and streetwise. She plays the victim to Don Giovanni as long as she believes that she can profit from that. Even Don Ottavio has some nuance here, his lack of alpha-male quality combined with a repressed aggressiveness when his fiancée refuses him his intent to marry her as soon as possible. All this is made possible in a staging that focus the actors. The single set is a structure that shows a staircase covered by grapevine on one side and a wall of upright pianos on the other side. Don Giovanni’s final feast is a bit overdone with all those plastic grapes, but the effect of the Commendatore dragging his prey inside the wall was very striking and original.

This performance has been conducted by the assistant director, Timur Zangiev, who showed a very good grasp of rhythmic flow in his forward-moving beat dictated by needs of structural clarity and a good ear for matching the Hauptstimme in the orchestra with his soloists on stage. I wonder how the results would be with a truly adept orchestra.

My main source of interest this evening was the Donna Anna of Hibla Gerzmava, a soprano I have first heard on Youtube in the solo of Mozart’s Vesperae Solennes de Confessore. Her singing in this recording impressed me so much that I decided that I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to hear her live. It is a voice of unusual creaminess and homogeneity used with seamless legato, but either she was not in a very good day or she has become a little careless since that Laudate dominum. Whenever things got high or fast or loud or all those, her soprano would acquire a metallic edginess that jars with her usual smooth vocal delivery. It is praiseworthy that she had tackled the stretta of Non mi dir a tempo in a fast pace, but the sound could be a bit Mara Zampieri-esque. In terms of interpretation too, although her Italian is very clear and well-pronounced, the impression was rather generalized, especially in a very tame Or sai chi l’onore. In any case, she sounded like a paragon of Mozartian singing in comparison with the sour-toned and gusty Donna Elvira. Although Inna Klochko had her unfocused moments, her bell-toned soprano is tailor-made for Zerlina. Vedrai carino was particularly lovely, graceful and sexy. She is a very good actress and knows who to use music and text to create a complete performance.

When it comes to Artem Safronov’s Don Ottavio, one must praise his extraordinarily long breath and flexibility, but his voice has very strange placement, his high register matte and bottled-up. Dmitry Zuev (Don Giovanni) too has long breath, but the tonal quality is too open, metallic and unvaried. His idea of interpretation was basically keeping you on the edge of your seat while he spitted out long stretches of text without breathing pauses in uninflected Italian. Although Denis Makarov’s Italian is very poor too, that is all I can fault in his Leporello. The voice is warm and pleasant and he is funny without exaggeration. Maksim Okosin too was a pleasant Masetto, richer toned than unsual. Finally, Dmitry Stepanovich was a very powerful Commendatore, a bit eerie in his straight-toned vocal production and weird vowels.

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The Salzburg Festival has been for decades a reference for Mozartian singing – here the world’s greatest conductors had some of the most famous singers of their days performing for an audience paying very expensive tickets without complaining, for they knew that they were seeing the truly best. Here Ljuba Welitsch, Elisabeth Grümmer, Leontyne Price, Gundula Janowitz, Edita Gruberová sang Donna Anna; here Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Julia Varady, Carol Vaness  sang Donna Elvira; here Irmgard Seefried, Mirella Freni, Kathleen Battle sang Zerlina, Cesare Valetti, Nicolai Gedda, Alfredo Kraus, Gösta Winbergh sang Don Ottavio… and this makes me realize that this is probably the first Festival’s performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni half cast with singers of provincial level. With no reduction of price tickets. I hope that this is not a sign of times of decadence here.

Lenneke Ruiten’s acidulous and raspish Donna Anna operates very close to the edge. The fact that she can now and then soften her tone and her fluent coloratura in Non mi dir redeem a performance otherwise quite disappointing. Anett Frisch (Elvira) has a basically warm and pleasant tonal quality, but it all sounds a little bit immature vocally speaking. She is a musicainly and stylish singer, but Mi tradì for instance was all over the place. Valentina Lafornita (Zerlina) is the only soprano in the cast with a distinctive color, more than enough volume and the necessary variety to build an interpretation. She has her metallic patches and moments of dubious intonation or awkward breath control, but she sang Vedrai, carino with real seduction. Andrew Staples’s Don Ottavio is a series of variations of nasality and unintentional buffoonery. Ildebrando d’Arcangelo’s Don Giovanni is so lugubriously and charmlessly sung that you could take him for the Commendatore. Well, actually not: as soon as Tomasz Konieczny produced his first sound, the sheer power and volume were so extraordinary that you couldn’t help feeling that you were listening from someone not from this world. Luca Pisaroni stands out in this cast as a 100% stylish and engaging Leporello. Although he has been singing this role for a while, his performance has not still lost its naturalness and sense of fun.

Christoph Eschenbach seemed to concentrate in purely musical aspects of this performance – eliciting beautiful sounds from an ideal Vienna Philharmonic, elegant phrasing, clarity and transparence. Some of his tempi were utterly undramatic and uncomfortable for his singers (Zerlina’s Batti, batti or Donna Anna’s Or sai chi l’onore). In other moments, he would unexpectedly accelerate to egg-timer pace for apparently no purpose. With rare exceptions (fortunately, the appearance of the ghost of the Commendatore being one of them), one could take this for a series of concert arias.

Sven-Erich Berchtolf stages this Don Giovanni in a hotel. The Commendatore seems to be a military prominent figure staying there. This seems to justify some parallel actions involving some secret police agents invading rooms, molesting women in underwear and throwing bedclothes in the staircase. There is also the devil who doubles here as a bartender. Some of it is nonsensical and silly, but with the help of Rolf Glittenberg’s sets and a detailed Personenregie, much of this actually works, if not really memorably.

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Claus Guth’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni for the Salzburg Festival can be seen on DVD – and I have written about it in operadiscographies.com. As much as I find Christian Schmidt’s hyper-realistic sets exquisite and truly atmospheric and Guth’s Personenregie most efficient, I dislike on principle productions in which what characters say makes no sense with what they are doing – like talking to people who do not exist or referring to going outside when they are already outside or going up where there is no upstairs. I find it even cheaper when the nonsense is explained as a regular basis with the fact that the characters are intoxicated; ad absurdum, if your premise is that characters are really delirious, you don’t even have to stage it at all.  Call me fastidious, but I also dislike the idea that Donna Anna – and I have already written about that – is a double-faced scheming bitch.

In any case, this evening’s Don Giovanni was a different experience from the Salzburg Don Giovanni. First, it uses a different edition. While in the Festival, we basically had the Vienna edition without the closing scene, here we have the “standard” edition without the closing scene. Second, the audiences in Salzburg had Bertrand de Billy’s well-behaved conducting, while Berliners had a more appropriately ebullient Daniel Barenboim. Third, the cast changes gave the show a somehow different atmosphere – this evening’s Donna Anna, for instance, seemed more depressed than predatory, and her Don Ottavio more unconcerned than bitter.

But let’s talk about Barenboim first. Since his last Nozze di Figaro in the Schiller Theater, I have developed a new interest in what this conductor has to offer in this repertoire. Although Figaro was an all-round more satisfying experience, this Don Giovanni was no less interesting. This evening, the maestro tried to reconcile two traditions of Mozart performance: on one side, absolute transparency achieved through optimal balance between singers and the orchestral lines, especially woodwind (violins could have been a tad more clearly articulated); on the other, the intent to infuse phrasing with drama through accent, tone-coloring and dynamics. These two objectives some time collided in the occasional lack of polish, but I would say that, on the frame of very carefully picked tempi, they generally cohabited with interesting results. La ci darem la mano, for instance, sounded truly fresh in its rhythmic alertness; Dalla sua pace had lovely hushed strings (in spite of a tenor who could not blend in), both Donna Anna and Donna Elvira had intense, psychologically-aware accompagnati before their arias; and the supper scene (here the last one) was truly powerful without ever loosing forward-movement. The fact that Barenboim could provide the necessary punch (seriously lacking in Salzburg) made Guth’s staging sharper – to say the truth, there were many moments in which the drama was really happening in the orchestral pit rather than on stage.

I reckon that gathering an all-star Mozartian cast for Don Giovanni must be quite challenging these days: singers who sang Mozart in the days of Gundula Janowitz and Fritz Wunderlich now are basically Wagner/Verdi singers and the Donna Annas of our days would have had a career as Blondchen or Barbarina back then. In this context, this evening’s was an effective cast. In any case, those disappointed by Anna Netrebko’s cancelling had a most positive surprise in Maria Bengtsson. If her voice is not truly distinctive in tone (I had seen her as Pamina and was not particularly impressed), it is rich and creamy for a high soprano. The fact that it seemed to blossom and feel really comfortable in the upper reaches made for a smoothly sung Donna Anna (maybe a bit too smooth in Or sai chi l’onore), and the large supplies of legato and mezza voce (plus reliable if not breathtaking fioriture) made her an example of Mozartian poise today. From now on, I am curious to see what she is doing next.

Compared to her performance on video, Dorothea Röschmann sounded far healthier this evening. Her voice flashed in the hall, the low register particularly rich, and she sings every moment as if it were the last one, what is almost a requirement for a Donna Elvira. That said, her high register does sound labored these days: everything above a high g (high g included) is sung with an important amount of pressure. When urgency is involved, it works somehow; when poise is required, one is consistently left wanting. Anna Prohaska is better cast as Zerlina than as Susanna – her soprano comes in one very bright color and she is not particularly seductive in sound and in attitude, but she is admirably intelligent in what regards making use of the text.

I had seen Giuseppe Filianoti only once a long while ago in a Lucia at the Met. Then I had found him an elegant singer, but it seems that the years have not been kind on his voice. It is still substantial for a Mozart tenor and he has very long breath (as one could particularly see in his runs in Il mio tesoro), but he now sounds tout and hard above the passaggio. Tonal variety is gone, pitch goes awry now and then and the results are simply not truly ingratiating. In this cast, he was also the less interesting actor – one had the impression that he was truly annoyed by being there. Since Don Giovanni is in death agony in this staging, it is difficult to say if Christopher Maltman is actually portraying his character’s declining vigor or if he does get actually tired with everything he has to do (it is a very “physical” approach to the role), but I’ll take the first option and add that his well-focused baritone has both the necessary Mozartian sheen and the hint of rawness to make his Burlador de Sevilla three-dimensional. Erwin Schrott’s Leporello was not really subtly sung, but he did sing it forcefully and his acquaintance with the Italian text and his imagination to play with it always work miracles. Stefan Kocan’s Slavic-toned bass sounded somehow too important for Masetto, and Alexander Tsymbalyuk’s Commendatore is more than resonant enough. One could wish for a bit more menace in his singing, but solidly sung it was.

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How local should be the staging of an opera? This is the question director Roland Schwab must have posed himself when the Deutsche Oper asked him for a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. This is an opera named after one of the characters and although this generally means that this is the main character, that does not mean either that all other characters unimportant. I write that for it seems that a great deal of new staging of this opera has been so absorbed by Don Juan that all other characters are left to imagination, even if they sing a great deal more than the burlador de Sevilla himself. I find it particularly bothersome when this involves messing with the score, as in this case: recitatives have been trimmed to fit the director’s concept and the loss of Il mio tesoro and the final scene has nothing to do with the Viennese edition (no razor duet, to start with), but simply with the fact that Mozart and da Ponte supposedly did not know better.

As staged here, this could be a two-role opera with pauses for concert arias from high-voiced singers. Don Giovanni is some sort of mobster who lives la vida loca in Berlin’s clubbing scene, with a little help of his sidekick Leporello. Although Mozart and da Ponte wrote an opera that reaches its climax in the second act, here this is transferred to the first act finale: Don Giovanni’s party is some sort of night-life inferno with two spiraled neon hell-machines, a boar’s head stuck on a spear, a naked girl with a fixator around one leg, other naked girl hanging from the ceiling, a quotation from Dante and good old Jesus on a stationary bike. Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, Don Ottavio, Zerlina and Masetto seem to be extras from Mike Nichols’s “The Graduate” who have taken a bus to Berlin in the end of the movie. What they are doing there, what they feel, what they think, who they are – these are irrelevant question.

So, the production concentrates on the issues of the addiction to freedom that clubbers experiment only to drive them always to live in their limits, until the never-ending quest for new limits becomes a prison. Point taken. How does the giocoso part fits in the story? In some sort of slapstick broad black comedy that Germans appreciate, basically all turning around Leporello, who licks arms, nipples, face, feet etc of half the cast and some extras, strips to his underwear while doing Beyoncé-like choreographies surrounded by dancing skulls with mickey-mouse ears in the graveyard scene while tossing evil laughs whenever there is time for it. When there is not, no problem – the conductor agreed to press the pause button in the middle of recitatives.

If the idea was to shock or wow anyone who knows Berlin’s underground scene, I guess that the effort was self-defeating. It all looked cutely quirky. Sometimes embarrassingly so. There was nothing truly disturbing going on stage – maybe an ill-humored member of the audience would find the unfunny jokes about Christ offensive, but they are so pointless that I doubt that – and I do not really believe that Da Ponte and Mozart truly give raw material for something blatant. Especially when the conductor is Roberto Abbado, who offered the best-behaved performance of this opera I have ever seen in my life. Vigor, strong accents, contrasts – one should look for that anywhere else. Emptily elegant phrasing, sprightly rhythms and graciousness is all you would find here. I have once read that one shopping-center somewhere in USA has always Mozart pouring from the speakers, because they have observed that this discourages young people from indulging in vandalism. The musical performance this evening seems to prove that. If those on stage seemed ready to let it rip, this must have been because they were paid to pretend.

The saving grace in this evening was Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka, who offered a Mozartian performance in the grand manner. I cannot think of anyone else who could tackle the role of Donna Anna these days as beautifully as she did. With the exception of some wrong entries in Non mi dir, she sang immaculately: unforced, round top notes, crystal-clear coloratura, pure intonation, instrumental phrasing, sense of style, an amazingly lovely tone, you name it, she has it. I have a message for mezzo-sopranos: Donna Elvira is not a role for you girls. Ruxandra Donose is only the next victim of this misconception – she sounded uncomfortable throughout and struggled perilously with a transposed Mi tradì. Her intervention in Don Giovanni’s feast had to do with the optional lower notes. On the other hand, Martina Welschenbach found the role of Zerlina too low, but her voice is so pleasant and her singing is so engaging that one can forgive her that. Yosep Kang was an unsubtle Don Ottavio who still needs to know the art of tonal coloring and dynamic shading. No-one missed Il mio tesoro tonight. Ildebrando d’Arcangelo’s big, firm bass lacks some variety too and he is not very strong in vocal seduction, but considering what an over-enthusiastic singer could do in this production, his austerity is quite welcome. At this point, I could write a master degree about Alex Esposito’s Leporello. Although his voice is not remarkable in any sense, it is nonetheless quite reliable and healthily produced. His interpretation is now plagued by the sort of mannerisms that appear when a singer sings for too long the same role. He has a Roberto Benigni-like restlessness and clownishness that, framed by a good director, can come through as vivaciousness and funniness. This evening, rambunctiousness and vexatiousness would describe it more faithfully. Finally, Ante Jerkunica did not find problems in the writing of the Commendatore, but having a lighter and clearer voice than Don Giovanni was a little confusing.

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Although Così fan tutte has many operatic puzzles to be solved, the most controversial puzzle in the Mozart/Da Ponte operas arguably is the role of Donna Anna. The lady’s ambivalent behavior has reserved her increasingly nastier portrayals in recent operatic productions. It has been almost widely accepted that she is attracted to Don Giovanni and trapped in an engament of convenience with the unmanly Don Ottavio. In Roger Norrington’s words, she is often portrayed as a neurotic, while the libretto and the music show her as a heroic character instead. However, in Calixto Bieito’s and in Claus Guth’s productions, we see a schemy, unfaithful and two-faced woman. I know our days tend to see a hero rather than an anti-hero in Don Giovanni, but I have the impression that this view has been established at the expense of the opera’s serious couple’s seriousness.

In their first scene together, Donna Anna is trying to detain Don Giovanni while her servants are arriving to help her. Although the audience is unaware of what has happened inside, Leporello would later say that his master tried to rape her (due imprese leggiadre: sforzar la figlia ed ammazzar il padre). While she desperately tries to prevent him from escaping, he answers that this is all in vain, for she will not discover who he is (chi son’io tu non saprai). In any case, if she indeed knew who he is (as many recent productions suggest), why would she make such a scandal to attract her father’s and her servants’ attention? A lady such as Donna Anna in a conservative country as Spain used to be would never jeopardize her reputation like that. The text shows a woman ready to sacrifice her own life to save her honour (non sperar se non m’uccidi).

So the text is quite clear about the fact that Donna Anna was almost raped by Don Giovanni, who would kill her father soon after that. That said, still the pieces of the puzzle do not fit perfectly together. Although her fiancé, Don Ottavio swears he will revenge her father and kept – awkwardly, truth be said – his word, the young woman repels him with increasing vehemence. Her strange behavior is probably the reason why directors tend to see some sort of insincerity in her. Curiously, while trying to break into Don Giovanni’s party under their masks, Donna Anna answers to Donna Elvira’s comment that this was dangerous and risky business by saying she feared for her dear fiancé in the first place (temo pel caro sposo, e per noi temo ancor). One could even say that she is quite tender with Don Ottavio, even when he looses his patience with her and says she is cruel towards him. But he is somehow right to ask: why would she wish to postpone a wedding that her father himself has approved especially now that she is alone in the world?

Before I address the issue, I would like to make one previous question: where exactly does Don Ottavio live? We can assume that he does not live in the Commendatore’s house, for it would be inappropriate to have an unmarried couple living under the same roof. So, if he lives somewhere else, how exactly could Donna Anna fetch him so quickly when her father was in danger? In an emergency situation such as that, she would not have the time to get a carriage or even a horse to ride to Don Ottavio’s place, get a servant to open the doors in the middle of the night, wake him up, get him dressed and then run back. If she indeed managed to do that as fast as she could, she would nonetheless take a couple of hours in the operation. In any case, a reasonable person would guarantee that in-house servants who were supposed to have weapons around took care of the situation rather than leave her father unattended while facing an invader. Considering all that, it seems well-grounded to believe that Don Ottavio was already in the Commendatore’s house. In the middle of the night without his host’s permission, although the young lady seemed to be aware of that.

When Donna Anna recognizes in Don Giovanni her father’s murderer, she tells Don Ottavio: “It was quite late at night, when I saw a man covered in his cloak whom I first thought to be you enter my room”. One can only wonder why she would believe that this man could be her fiancé. I am sure that her father would not approve of those nocturnal visits – a young woman alone in her room with her fiancé in the middle of the night. Notice that she found it quite natural, also the fact that he had a cloak on (i.e.,  he came from outside). She only found it strange when she realized that the man was not Don Ottavio. It is therefore justified to believe that she accorded her fiancé this intimate interview. Probably because the couple did not want to wait for the honeymoon to have some fun, Donna Anna arranged this rendez-vous finally to be surprised by a strange sexual offender. This perfectly explains why the young woman felt so guilty about the whole event – she betrayed her own father’s confidence in the very day of his death and, if she had not opened the door, he would have had no reason to fight Don Giovanni and he would have not even died (before you find it exaggerated, please have in mind the first scene in Verdi’s La Forza del Destino). This also explains why she felt that rushing things towards consummating her marriage with Don Ottavio required some consideration: it was rushing things that put them into those tragic circumstances. In her big aria, she is hurt by the accusation of being cruel – for she knows that she had previously been extremely indulgent towards her fiancé. She even says “Love has spoken enough in your favor to me”.

One extra inference is believing that Don Ottavio and Don Giovanni were actually friends. After Donna Anna explained her fiancé the circumstances of her father’s death, he says “It is possible that under the sacred mantle of friendship…”. Donna Anna herself acknowledges that Don Giovanni is a friend of Don Ottavio’s when shortly before that she says that they need their friendship. Entering a rich lady’s bedroom without her consent was not the easiest thing in the world in the days when a sword was the most dangerous weapon a man could carry. And nobody forced Donna Anna’s door – she saw a man enter and was not surprised by it. Who knows Don Ottavio, trying to impress his philanderer friend, rashly told him about his plans only to be trumped? Convincing a beautiful serious lady to sin against chastity is something a guy could use to impress a friend far more successful in the seduction department.

Although this interpretation is closely based on the text, it is still pure speculation – but again Mozart’s music for Donna Anna is very different from what he composed to Vitellia. Her cries for revenge receive music of heroic quality, her consistently high tessitura and fioriture portray her as a serious character and the florid stretta of her noble aria are a good illustration of how sincere is her guilt and solem her vow to atone (“maybe one day Heaven will pity me” is her text). Donna Anna’s sincerity also makes Don Ottavio a far more interesting character – he might be not an alpha male, but he has hormones like everybody else and, as much as Don Giovanni, all he is trying to do is having some fun in a beautiful Summer evening, just like everyone in Seville before the invention of TV, Internet and Ipad.

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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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The fact that the visual imagery proposed by designer Marja Björnsson in this 2002 production by Francesca Zambello – frankly anachronical in its disparaged style of costumes and sceneries – is ultimately unconvincing could be the reason why the intendant decided to give it a twist by selling the show as a “feast to the eyes both to ladies and a gentlemen” (I swear this sounds more appealing in French when this woman said it to a friend next to me while entering the theatre).

What is beyond doubt is that the Royal Opera House has succeded in its purpose of catching the attention of new audiences – Lorenzo da Ponte’s jokes rarely missed the mark and the cast would more often than not felt inclined to overact in order to boost laugh in a way that would have been splendid if it not tampered with Mozart’s music.

Although Paul Syrus proved to know his Mozart, the house band did not feel inclined to respond to his athletic yet not overfast approach. The sound picture was restricted, ensemble often imprecise and articulation blurred. Laughs had an easy advantage on them.

Anna Netrebko was supposed to be a treat to the eyes, but she proved to be also a treat to the ears, even announced to be indisposed. That could be felt in her reluctance to sing softly and a certain caution with high notes. That did not prevent her, however, from pulling out a dramatic and full-toned Or sai chi l’onore, guilt, regret and revolt finely balanced. Although she felt she was unable to go on after the intermission, I could bet she would still be the highlight of this performance in case she had decided to keep singing. Her replacement, Russian soprano Marina Poplavskaya does have a forceful flexible voice, but not the polish of a Mozartian singer. She is scheduled to sing Elisabetta in Verdi’s Don Carlo soon – she should work on her mezza voce before that.

Ana María Martínez has indeed the temper for Donna Elvira, but cannot disguise the fact that she cheated with her high notes during the whole performance. When a young soprano has problems with a and b flat, something really wrong must be going on. After a shaky start, Sally Fox managed to produce a teazing lovely Zerlina in spite of a technique more proper to Bach cantatas than to Mozart. I have to say Robert Murray’s grainy tone prone to curdling in high notes is not to my liking, but he sang both his arias well. Erwin Schrott’s long experience with the role of Don Giovanni is evidentin his mastery of all dramatic aspects – especially the intelligent use of recitatives. The French would say he is bien dans sa peau as a seducer, as a rogue and as a nobleman. Sometimes he lets himself go too much and one is inclined to find the performance narcissistic but that is soon dispelled by the singer’s irresistible charisma. His bass-baritone is also in mint condition. The fact that Leporello has less rich a voice than his master’s is always a good dramatic point, but Kyle Ketelsen is more a baritone than a bass-baritone and the low tessitura really seemed uncomfortable for him. He was not fazed by that and sustained the challenge of interacting, establishing a splendid partnership with Schrott. Matthew Rose was a strong-voiced likeable Masetto and, in spite of the occasional rusty moments, Robert Lloyd was an efficient Commendatore.

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Since Riccardo Muti left La Scala and Claudio Abbado has made his activities as an opera conductor rarer, some might be asking themselves who would carry on the Mozartian tradition in Italy. Although Gustavo Dudamel comes rather from Venezuela than from Venice, it seems he has fallen into Abbado’s protection. Thus, this Don Giovanni might be a kind of test of fire to see if the young South-American conductor is able to fill in the shoes of his famous predecessors. In fact, La Scala’s Don Giovanni could not answer the question. It seems Dudamel has a strong sense of theatre and galvanizes his orchestra to enthusiastic music-making, but in the end I got the impression he was only trying really hard not to have a definable approach and to overgesticulate to the last seat in the theatre. If one asks me if Dudamel’s Don Giovanni was fast or slow, I wouldn’t be able to tell. For example: he responds to situations in a way that has more to do with making it loud and louder. I can say, however, what I did not hear: clear articulation. Rapid string passages sounded imprecise and muffled, and clarity was not this performance’s strongest asset. I have to say I really missed Muti’s masterstroke – and if the orchestra keeps to this subpar standard the Milanese will eventually join me.

When it comes to the cast, however, the afternoon reserved good surprises. Anna Samuil does have the metallic voice one would expect from a high soprano from Russia, but that’s all I could not be enthusiastic about in her performanc. She has a sizable, homogeneous and flexible voice that can sound sweet when this is necessary. She knows the kind of sound Mozart demands from her, has clear diction and some temperament. Her Or sai chi l’onore was phrased with elegance and accuracy after a vivid recitative. Non mi dir lacked nothing – long breath, pianissimi, trills and clearly articulated divisions a tempo. Morover, her melisme in the second act sextett crowned the ensemble in a way rarely available in recordings. She is a young singer and still has to mature; her potential, however, is beyond doubt. Annette Dasch was a light creamy-toned Elvira. Truth be said, the part is a bit heavy for her voice and she would now and then sound opaque. Fortunately, Mi tradì happened to be her best moment, even if she was operating really close to her limits. Sylvia Schwartz’s capable Zerlina was only hampered by a kind of Judith-Raskin-like old-school vocal production. It must be said that these three singers were quite good-looking and more willing to act than one would generally expect. When it comes to the men, the results are less impressive: Jeremy Ovenden has a nasal unappealing sound and, for a tenor who sings Handel, his runs in Il mio tesoro could be smoother. Alex Esposito’s Leporello had all the necessary elements to build a congenial performance (and he is a very good actor) but a substantial voice. His baritone sounded quite small-scaled, especially in La Scala’s dry acoustics. Ernesto Panariello has a really forceful voice, but not the depth and darkness a Commendatore should have. When it comes to the title role, there was indeed an outstanding performance from Erwin Schrott. He just has it all – the voice, the attitude, the style and even the looks. His command of Italian declamation is masterly – and he made one interesting intepretative point after the other from beginning to end.

Peter Mussbach’s production for the Lindenoper is very elegant in its revolving walls and blue lighting and, when there is a cast skilled as this one, concentrating on acting is always a good idea. However, when one has actors performing in such a naturalistic manner, the odd implausible directorial choice stands out: why Don Ottavio asks servants to fetch Donna Anna’s salts and carry away the body, when there is no one there? Why Donna Anna asks where the corpse is when she wakes from her faint she is right in front of it? Why Donna Elvira reads Don Giovanni’s victims’ names from a wall when the audience sees there is nothing written there? There must be a concept behind all that but in the end it all looks like sloppy work.

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