Don Giovanni is my favourite Mozart opera, and I should start by saying I had an extremely enjoyable night out. Unusually, I came to this performance with expectations. Well, of course there are normally expectations for a performance, but in this case, I have been reading reviews beforehand, which I normally avoid. I also saw this very production a few years ago (with Gerald Finley as Don G), but it was before I became particularly interested in opera, so I don’t remember much. Additionally, being unable to wait until tonight, I went and watched Act 1 on the big screen in the plaza for the broadcast a couple of weeks ago. Why no Act 2? Because it was raining, windy, I didn’t have enough padding for my arse sitting on the cobbled stones, and I had brought a friend with me who had never been to an opera before and hadn’t realised how long they were and was cold and hungry.
So, all the reviews I read went on a LOT about how sexy Erwin Schrott is as the hyper-priapic Don Giovanni (as did certain of my friends), and how much (or little, rather) clothing he has in various scenes. Schrott is, in fact, an excellent Don G; I’d almost say the ideal casting (out of those singers I’ve had the fortune to see/hear so far, of course). He is certainly very convincing as a charmer, and played the character as shallow and amoral rather than downright nasty, as some do. I had no difficulty believing his obsessive woman-chasing, but I did have some difficulty with the idea of him killing an old man in cold blood and then never giving it another thought; still, perhaps it was a case of Scarlett O’Hara “I won’t think about that today”. To aid him, Schrott has both a handsome face, and the body of someone who’s spent a lot of time down the gym. Unfortunately, his look also had several offputting features, for me, at least – tight shiny trousers, long scraggy hair (wig), waistcoat often worn without shirt, and dripping with sweat (baby oil? chip fat?) in the sauna, I mean dinner, scene. Overall, this gave the impression of a singer from a glam rock band, and this is not a good look. As for the musical side of it, he made a very nice noise when singing properly, but I didn’t particularly like his sprechstimme style for the recitatives.
In opera, one gets quite used to accepting that characters can be mistaken for eachother when they look nothing alike whatsoever, so it was quite a treat to be presented with such a plausible Don G – Leporello pairing. Leporello was Kyle Ketelsen, and a pair had a fantastic rapport in their scenes together. Being of a similar age(?), build, and colouring, their impersonations of eachother were highly convincing (at least, from the amphitheatre), and, to put icing on the cake, they even imitated eachother’s vocal style. Those who have read my previous reviews will be aware that I’m a big Ketelsen fan, and he certainly did not disappoint on this occasion. Lovely singing (as always), strong, resonant and carrying right to the bottom of the register; obviously very comfortable in the role, and had clearly given thought to bringing out the different facets of Leporello’s character; plus an excellent sense of (black) comedy.
This being quite a dark opera in terms of subject matter, the comic moments are very important as a counterbalance to the themes of violence, death and revenge. Ana María Martínez’s Donna Elvira was another which was brilliantly acted, and a masterpiece of comic timing from the moment she appeared, wearing a wedding dress with a shotgun slung across her shoulders. It took me a while to get used to her voice, as I found it a little harsh around the edges at first, but by her first aria in Act 2 I was really enjoying it, and very impressed with her technique and control. Anna Netrebko (Donna Anna), on the other hand, is one of those rare sopranos whose voice can give me goosebumps. Being picky, she can sometimes be a little imprecise in terms of intonation and phrasing, but she makes such a beautiful sound that I really don’t care. The two of them were both highly convincing in their roles, and also, as a bonus, happened to be very attractive to look at. Even when wandering around wearing bed sheets.
For the rest of the cast, Matthew Rose was very convincing as sulky slow-witted lump Masetto, and Sarah Fox as a dippy, impressionable Zerlina, and both acquitted themselves decently in their parts. Reinhard Hagen was Commendatore; his final entrance in the dinner scene happens to be one of my favourite operatic moments, and I have to say I like it rather more powerful and scary than he was able to provide. Don Ottavio is a somewhat thankless role, and unfortunately, every time Robert Murray started singing, I just wished he’d stop. Harsh, but true. (And to cap it all, the poor man’s wig was a particularly stupid mullet. At least, I hope it was a wig.)
I’d heard some bad things about the orchestra, or rather, the conducting of the orchestra by Ivor Bolton. For example, “who … should stick to conducting something he can handle. A bus, perhaps.” (SJT, writing on RMO) I didn’t think it was that bad, at least, not the night I went. However, the overture is one of my favourites, and should start dark and brooding, then fizz with energy, but this was distinctly lacking in any power and intensity. I found the rest of it a bit on the wooly side, lacking precision of ensemble, and often giving the impression of dragging. No criticism of any individual instrumentalists, though, and some nice woodwind moments.
Regarding the visual aspect of the production… Costumes were mostly rather fetching, especially Don G’s red outfit (when actually fully dressed), Donna Elvira’s purple velvet drag ensemble, and, well, Netrebko in whatever she wore. Zerlina, less fetchingly, got to wear a white sack, and Leporello was unfortunately dressed like a tramp for a lot of the time, although at least his bad wig wasn’t as bad as the thing he had stuck on his head in Orlando. A fairly minimalist set, but an attractive one which worked well, mostly in shades of verdigris and rust, and a big curving tiled wall (with handy sticking-out bits so Don G and Leporello could climb up and down it when required), doubling as stairs, balcony, etc., with the other side painted as a wonky-perspective ballroom. I have no idea why it started closing in as if it was going to squish the cast at the end of Act 1, but for that matter, I have no idea how, at this point, Don G managed to escape from 5 people waving a variety of guns and sharp things at him. Maybe the two things are related – explanations on a postcard, please? For the graveyard scene, some sinister monks came and stood on the stage for no apparent reason, but the Commendatore statue was nowhere to be seen. The characters peeked through a hole in the wall to talk to it, but I couldn’t see much from where I was, except a glimpse of some bizarre structure that looked more like a bit of a large wicker man. Or wicker basket. I don’t know why dinner was being served in the sauna, but I have no problem with it being so. I might have thought it was a cool effect when the flames of hell rose from the sauna… if I hadn’t seen this production before, and remember from last time half a dozen of the ‘gas rings’ all whoomphing on together, with great big flames, rather than randomly going on one or two at a time, being a bit feeble, and sputtering out after a few seconds. A tightening up of health and safety regulations, I assume.