Wednesday, February 10, 2021

DON GIOVANNI (Wiener Staatsoper)****


By Cal


Available until: Wiener Staatsoper productions seem to be available for about 24 hours. There is another broadcast on 14th February.

Wiener Staatsoper continues its series of livestreams (mostly but not exclusively Mozart) with the opera many people (including me) consider to be his greatest: Don Giovanni. (Though you’ve got to admit, it has some very close competition.)

Don Giovanni is a brilliant opera and it’s good to try new things, but one thing you don’t want to do is confuse your audience. Although most people in the audience at an opera will have seen Don Giovanni before, probably more than once, there are likely to be people in every audience who are seeing the opera for the first time and perhaps even some who have never seen an opera before. Putting on an opera isn’t just about doing something special and creative with it – it’s about making people want to come back.


Jean-Louis Martinoty’s production follows the basic story, but there are a few anomalies. For example, the Commendatore discovers Don Giovanni on the ground with his daughter and kind of gives him a casual sort of kick. Not that I am in any way advocating violence, but it seems a bit mild coming from a man who will shortly threaten his daughter’s attacker with a sword.


Donna Elvira seems to be tracking Don Giovanni down when she’s in the middle of some sort of business meeting. I know some people are good at multi-tasking, but part of the point of Elvira’s character for me is that she is obsessive over Don Giovanni and really struggles to think about anything else. Leporello’s interest in women makes him a bit too similar to Don Giovanni – it’s a valid interpretation, but we’ve already got one Giovanni and there are so many other ways of interpreting Leporello. Later in the opera, Leporello is aided in his escape by two characters who then shout for him to be stopped. Maybe they wanted him to get away and they’re putting up a good front for the others, but while it’s an interesting idea, there’s no opportunity for it to go anywhere.


But there were also some really interesting moments in the production. Donna Elvira spends Act 1 trying to rescue Donna Anna and Zerlina from Don Giovanni and this side to her character is emphasised by her appearance in other scenes. It’s a really good addition to the opera as it supports the idea that she cares about them and doesn’t just see them as rivals who need to be got out of the way. There’s also a moment between Don Giovanni and Leporello in the penultimate scene which says a lot about their complicated relationship.


Hans Schavernoch’s set isn’t remarkable in terms of creating a beautiful set, but it’s creative because the different scenes change the shape of the stage and show that the characters are somewhere else now. Fabrice Kebour’s lighting could maybe at times it could have been taken up a notch so we can see what’s going on a bit better, but when it works, it’s brilliantly creepy and the lighting is used to great effect when Leporello’s true identity is discovered and in the dinner scene.


Adam Fischer conducts the Orchester und Chor der Wiener Staatsoper and it does sound beautiful, but a lot of the music goes more slowly than I’d expect. This theoretically gives the singers the opportunity to explore their characters and their dramatic situations even more, but maybe it’s a little bit too slow at times. The orchestra also seems a bit quiet in comparison with the singers, but that could be a technical problem with the recording or with my speakers (or my ears) and nothing to do with the performance itself.


Mariusz Kwiecien is a slightly underpowered Don Giovanni, though I’m sure this is a problem with the recording as he’s usually a really stunning performer who completely owns the stage. He also seems rather remote, but perhaps he’s meant to be – a few characters try, but nobody can reach Giovanni emotionally. But even underpowered, what a great voice and his Window Aria, where the softness of his voice made it all the more seductive, would have worked on me.


Erwin Schrott, who played the Don in the other production of Don Giovanni we’ve watched in lockdown, is Leporello in this production. He is naturally good at comedy and we do get to see this, but there’s a subtlety in his performance that makes Leporello intriguing. The stage business in the Catalogue Aria ruined a great aria for me, but Erwin’s voice is smooth and beautiful and the music is wonderfully-interpreted.


Juliane Banse (a lovely Zerlina even in the bizarre 1995 Glyndebourne production, available on DVD) takes the role of Donna Elvira. The role is perhaps not the ideal fit for her voice, but she does well with making sense of the unusual interpretation of the character and the surprising costumes she’s given. As Donna Anna, Marina Rebeka initially seems to struggle with the demands of singing beautifully at speed whilst being thrown on the floor, but I think we can forgive her for that and her arias later on are stunning. Andrea Carroll’s light, sparkling voice makes her the perfect Zerlina. Benjamin Bruns’ lovely tenor is ideal for Don Ottavio and I like the way he develops his character, even if the libretto doesn’t allow him to act on his newfound determination.


There are some strange things going on in this production, but there’s also some really great singing.

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