Tag Archives: Don Giovanni

Juan to Watch

DON GIOVANNI

Hippodrome, Birmingham, Wednesday 7th March, 2018

 

Welsh National Opera is back in town and this time they’ve brought my favourite opera, Mozart’s masterly take on the Don Juan legend.  The setting is dark: huge slabs hold doorways (which are put to comic use) but also bear reliefs, friezes depicting human figures in a variety of poses.  Are they souls in torment, and a foretaste of what awaits this dissoluto when he is punito?  Or are they souls in love – which, as the opera demonstrates (in case we didn’t know already) brings its own kind of torment?  These huge pieces, further adorned with statuary, speak of a dominant power, of a ruling class imposing its will on the environs.  Which is what Don Giovanni does in spades, of course, under the guise of generosity and general benevolence.  In these days of sexual harassment cases brought against those (men) who abuse their positions of power, the opera takes on a sharp and contemporary relevance, although I doubt the likes of Weinstein will face his comeuppance via supernatural means!

Against this darkness and walls closing in and moving back, plays out the drama and the comedy of Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto.  Melodrama is countered with wit, high emotion with low, physical gags.  Mozart’s music ties all the mood swings together so we are aware of the contrasts but don’t see the join, and this revival of John Caird’s production serves all aspects, every change of tone, very well.

Gavan Ring’s swaggering Giovanni certainly looks the part and uses his baritone well for seductive decoration.  It’s a pity his voice comes across as somewhat underpowered when singing against the full orchestra: the champagne aria is a bit of a damp squib, alas, whereas La Ci Darem is delicious.  His serenade of Elvira’s maid is ‘accompanied’ by a mysterious, cowled figure, supposedly on the mandolin, thereby aligning Giovanni with the supernatural forces that crop up throughout.  This is the one production choice I query.  If Giovanni is in league with these forces and therefore doing the devil’s work, it doesn’t quite gel with his damnation, brought about by the spirit of the man he murders in the opening scene… Oh well.  I’m not going to let it ruin my night.

David Stout’s Leporello is instantly likeable.  He has the cockiness, the cheekiness and the grovelling down pat, and plays the comedy to the hilt.  Meeta Raval’s Donna Anna provides most of the high drama, while Elizabeth Watts’s Elvira’s melodramatic turn also contributes to the laughs.  Watts is arguably the best actor of this impressive ensemble; her wide-eyed Elvira, like the opera as a whole, balances the dramatic with the comic.  She is a drama queen.  Gareth Brynmor John gives us a solid hothead in his Masetto, while Katie Bray is sweet, funny and charming as his wayward fiancée, Zerlina.  Miklos Sebestyen’s Commendatore is suitably imposing but, for me, best voice of the evening comes out of Benjamin Hulett’s dashing Ottavio.  His tenor soars over the orchestra; his Ottavio is upright, moral and heroic, and not the wet lettuce he is sometimes portrayed as.

The orchestra is in excellent fettle under the baton of James Southall and although the fabulous WNO chorus has little to do, they make an impression with some country dancing at Zerlina’s wedding.

The world is a dark place, the production tells us, and those in charge will seek to exploit us.  Nevertheless, life is to be enjoyed, despite tyrants, despite the tyrannies of love.  At the end, the characters seem unable to embrace life’s pleasures: Anna defers her marriage to Ottavio – who agrees to it! – Elvira heads for a convent – and Leporello seeks out further servitude in a new master.  With Giovanni out of the picture, their lives have lost purpose.  We must allow ourselves a little dissolution, it seems, in order to be happy and fulfilled!

don giovanni

Leporello showing Donna Elvira Russell Brand’s biography – Elizabeth Watts and David Stout (Photo: Richard Hubert Smth)

 

 

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A Date with the Don

DON GIOVANNI

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 10th May, 2016

 

English Touring Opera brings a new production of what, in my view, is the finest opera ever written – I always look forward to new productions with a mix of excitement and trepidation: will I be outraged by liberties taken with staging and interpretation?

Prepared to vent my dismay, I take my seat…

The setting is 1900s Vienna, or rather beneath the city.  Apparently it was quite the thing back in the day: the workers who had built the network of tunnels ended up living down there, with nowhere else to go.  My first impression is that Anna Fleischle’s set may be too dark and gloomy for the more humorous sections… but it turns out my worries are unfounded.  If anything the humour shines through.  The set and the atmospheric lighting (by Guy Hoare) cannot swamp the irrepressible Don Giovanni or indeed Mozart’s rich and vibrant score.

Nicholas Lester is a tall, dark and handsome Don Giovanni – you want your lotharios to be swoonsome and he most certainly is.  His baritone is seductive, like being tempted with melted dark chocolate, and his hearty laughter is delicious.  He forms an hilarious double-act with his servant Leporello (a marvellous Matthew Stiff), here looking rather well-fed, so we can take his protestations about the privations he suffers with a whole peck of salt.  Leporello’s catalogue aria is one of the comedy highlights of the night.

Ania Jeruc’s Donna Elvira is suitably wild-eyed, driven to derangement by her undying devotion to Giovanni.  Strident but never shrill, Jeruc brings a touch of the exotic to the piece.

Gillian Ramm’s Donna Anna may be small in stature but she’s a powerhouse of emotion, and she is paired with a Don Ottavio (Robyn Lyn Evans) that for once actually seems to have a pair himself.  This Ottavio is upright, decent and above all strong – you don’t always get that.

Lucy Hall is sweet and funny as peasant bride Zerlina – her ‘Beat me’ aria is cute and flirtatious.  Bradley Travis brings out handsome husband-to-be Masetto’s hotheadedness and indignation.

We’re all waiting to see how the murdered Commendatore (Piotr Lempa) will be staged, when he returns to take Don Giovanni to Hell.  Here the tunnels and shadows of the underground setting come into their own.  A chorus of demons, here reminiscent of the workers who built the place, stand sinisterly around Giovanni, before carrying him away like pallbearers.

John Andrews conducts with verve – all the colours of Mozart’s impeccable score are brought out, sometimes at quite a lick.

A thrilling, witty production (the translation by Jeremy Sams is clever and laugh-out-loud funny) it is also stylish and powerful.  The design supports the action – there are glimpses of colour reminiscent of Gustav Klimt – director Lloyd Wood’s ideas enhance the libretto, and the actor-singers are the focus of the production.

Every time I hear it, I marvel that something so wonderful can exist, can be created by a human being.  This production by English Touring Opera reaffirms the notion that Don Giovanni is one of humanity’s finest achievements.

don giovanni

Climbing the walls – Don Giovanni and Leporello (Photo: Richard Hubert Smith)


Juan Of The Best

DON GIOVANNI

Live Broadcast from The Met, Saturday 29th October, 2011-10-30

 

The astronomical cost of a ticket to live opera is just one of the reasons most people don’t go.  This new initiative of broadcast plays and operas around the world, live or “as live”, is a wonderful opportunity to see some of the greatest works of art and world class performers, for a fraction of the cost, (roughly what you’d shell out for a 3-D movie of dubious quality and a pair of the snazzy specs that come with it).

 

The Metropolitan Opera in New York are currently staging Mozart’s finest (in my view THE finest opera ever written) and it is a cracking production.  I have seen several stagings of Don Giovanni, some of them symbolic, some of them translated to different eras, but this one, in the costumes of the period on a simple staging of walls, doors and balconies, is one of the greatest.  The splendid singers are all top drawer, and Michael Grandage’s direction places emphasis on characterisation as much as on the action.  The humour of Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto survives the translation into subtitles and the drama of Mozart’s magnificent score is unassailable.  That I had shivers throughout the evening was nothing to do with the air-conditioning.

 

Ramon Vargas brings something rarely seen in a Don Ottavio: impatience and frustration.  There is a lovely moment right at the end, when Donna Anna tells him he must wait one more year before they can be married, and he turns from her with a look of comical exasperation that is just delicious.  This is the beauty of a cinematic presentation – you get close-ups the people in the expensive seats do not. Marina Rebeka’s Donna Anna is both striking and sympathetic while Barbara Frittoli as Giovanni’s abandoned wife displays tenderness and helplessness in the face of her addiction to the man who done her wrong.  Luca Pisaroni’s Leporello always has a twinkle in his eye – his growing unease with his master’s carryings-on is coupled with his undeniable devotion to the man.

 

As it should be, my heart was won by Don Giovanni himself. Mariusz Kwiecien has something of a young Kurt Russell about him.  Clad in frockcoats and flouncy white shirts, he swaggers around the stage enjoying himself.  As the philandering Don, he can ‘turn on’ the charm.  His voice goes into turbo-charge for his seductive arias.  This is a man who knows what he is doing and is in full control of his talent for womanising.  Life is to be enjoyed and he enjoys it to the max.  When he is dragged into Hell, in a beautifully realised scene with a blue-faced Commendatore, he remains unrepentant.  With him gone, the rest of the characters have to grasp around for their next move: a deferred marriage, the taking of holy orders, the search for a new boss… It is as though Don Giovanni gave their lives purpose.  Without him, there is only anticlimax.