Multimedia Don Giovanni v.2 (ROH, 18 June 2015)
What a frustrating evening… I haven’t had quite so many mixed feelings about an opera performance in a while. Act I went smoothly, act II got progressively irritating. The public didn’t help.
Don Giovanni: Christopher Maltman
Leporello: Alex Esposito
Donna Anna: Albina Shagimuratova
Don Ottavio: Rolando Villazón
Donna Elvira: Dorothea Röschmann
Zerlina: Julia Lezhneva
Masetto: Nahuel di Pierro
Commendatore: Eric Halfvarson
Conductor/Fortepiano continuo: Alain Altinoglu
I’ve already written about this production last year, the DVD came out some time ago so I won’t go over it all again. Two things seemed very different with this first revival: the comedy was brought forward and the overly intellectual take on the Don himself was scraped. Both worked with the public, who loved it.
My #1, 2 and 3 reasons for seeing it again were Dorothea Röschmann’s Donna Elvira. For her sake I was going to put up with Julia Lezhneva who did not leave me with a pleasant feeling on recordings and Christopher Maltman whom I rather disliked as The Count in Le nozze di Figaro. Alex Esposito wasn’t bad last year, but who I really want to hear as Leporello is Luca Pisaroni and until such time I find it very difficult to be patient with others. But back to Esposito: either I got used to his Leporello or he was slightly better this year. I didn’t mind him at all. He actually got (deserved) applause in the middle of the Catalog aria – and at the end as well.
I found Julia Lezhneva more palatable live, though her obsession with the perfect sound at the expense of emotion still won’t win me over. It doesn’t help that her tone is rather cold – reportedly a common thing among Slavic singers; not sure about that, Albina Shagimuratova didn’t share it. In fact, tone-wise she was for me the revelation of the evening. At least from my angle she didn’t seem like much of an actress, but what a beautiful lyric tone. Apparently she’s a well-known Queen of the Night and I can see why: she’s got one of the freest tops I’ve had the pleasure of hearing live. Perhaps due to her acting chops, perhaps deliberately, her Donna Anna was more ambiguous than Malin Byström’s darkly horny one. I liked the ambiguity, though I would’ve also preferred better acting. So perhaps Shagström.
I liked Christopher Maltman better in this role. He was classically caddish, cold and cynical but looked like he was having fun (who wouldn’t in this role?! Kwiecien, from what I remember). His singing was pretty good, not the most memorable voice though and perhaps a bit light. When he crouched alone on stage for the finale he looked small and rather scared. I think Kwiecien carried that better; admitedly, it’s a difficult thing.
Nahuel di Pierro looked too much like a gentleman for Masetto but I liked his acting, he was the manliest dude on stage. For my money Eric Halfvarson didn’t hold a candle to Alexander Tsymbalyuk’s Commendatore. He was kinda meh, nowhere powerful or creepy enough.
I never quite understood the fuss over Rolando Villazón. At the time I got into opera he was I think still out with vocal problems, so I didn’t get to hear him during his “heyday”. I saw a video on youtube of him singing mezzo/countertenor arias (Baroque stuff) which rather confused me. So I was circumspect. Well… I almost never lean back in my seat (certainly not during Mozart operas) and let my eyes wonder around the house, but I did so whilst he was sawing away at his Il mio tesoro. What a boring, colourless rendition! (and that’s how he carried on through the night). Still, to my irritation, the public threw bravos like they were going out style. I mean what?! Vocally Antonio Poli from last year kicked his arse on every level (though he seemed less comfortable on stage, which is not to say that RV conveyed more than a daft but petulant Don Ottavio). Also he seemed completely absent in ensembles. There’s a trio with Donna Anna and Donna Elvira where the donnas mashed beautifully. Physically he was there too, vocally – god only knows where. But he got a super warm reception nonetheless… which progressively got me more and more irritated –
Especially considering Dorothea Röschmann got no (yea, you read it correctly: no) applause until her last aria. She did get a lot of laughs for her comedic efforts but, come on, here’s one of the best Donna Elviras ever and we praise her for her acting alone?! It’s true I was psyched to finally see her sing Mozart but (in spite of reasons 1-3) I’m not unreasonable. She didn’t have a bad day either, her fearless singing and nuanced vocal acting were present as ever. You could tell she knew this role like the back of her hand, she was totally into it, now fuming, now merciful and always credible. I thought she dominated the stage, especially when storming about in act I (this production is another occasion to hear her sing whilst climbing stairs). Unlike Véronique Gens’ Donna Elvira, who I remember as overly soft-hearted, hers acquired the comedic spice that distinguishes this revival. Donna Elvira’s ever so timely interventions towards thwarting Don Giovanni’s lecherous efforts were hilarious. I also liked her chie e la? at the end of A, chi me dice mai – this time an after thought to set up the amusing surprise when she realises just who is there.
Considering the strong personalities of the three female leads – as motley a bunch as they were – they made for a compelling showcase of operatic singing. You had the technical brilliance of Lezhneva, Shagimuratova’s stratospheric coloratura and Röschmann’s heart and soul. It does count for something (especially if you go to the opera once a year), though I’d prefer more coherence across the board.
Though not as loud as last time, the orchestra was loud enough and the singers got overpowered on occasion. I am starting to wonder if this doesn’t have something to do with the location of my seat (on the right side of the horseshoe). I used to think ROH had such good acoustics that your location didn’t matter but I’m not so sure anymore. At times (like in some ensembles or when the orchestral part was more complex) the sound was muddled to the point where it was hard for me to distinguish separate lines. Though Maestro was on the other hand quite singer friendly, the orchestral backing tended to seem a bit lacklustre. On the bright side, his fortepiano was sensitive and playful. The act I finale was pretty well done, could’ve been a bit faster but the dinner scene came off very spirited.
So on the one hand I enjoyed the funnier take, on the other I kinda missed the stranger, detached Don. I’m very happy to have caught Röschmann’s Donna Elvira, as much as I thought Gens’ sounded beautiful. I’d gladly ditch RV for Poli and JL for Watts. But there you go, big venues enjoy cramming a bunch of well known names for better or worse. The house was packed and the applause at curtain time very generous.