Not quite modern Don Giovanni (Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, 5 December 2016)
What better opera to see in Paris on the anniversary of Mozart’s death than Don Giovanni? Last night thadieu and I caught the premiere of the first (I think) revival of the recent TCE production.
Don Giovanni: Jean-Sébastien Bou
Donna Anna: Myrtò Papatanasiu
Donna Elvira: Julie Boulianne
Don Ottavio: Julien Behr
Leporello: Robert Gleadow
Zerlina: Anna Grevelius
Masetto: Marc Scoffini
Commendarore: Steven Humes
Conductor: Jérémie Rhorer | Le Cercle de l’Harmonie, Choeur de Radio France
Director: Stéphane Braunschweig
My records say I have seen Don Giovanni every year for the past 3. The first was the first 😉 , the second because of Röschmann and the third because I was going to be in Paris anyway so why not?
This was my first experience of TCE and wow, what a welcoming venue! It has immediately skyrocketed into my top of opera venues. Thadieu (read her take here) and I combined sightseeing with opera going (which, as usual by now, turned into a mad dash up the Champs Elysées Christmas Market when we realised we were running out of time) and so I decided to take the opportunity of shooting night time pictures of Paris and possibly having to put the camera in storage at the venue. But no, the Cerbers waived us in and the announcer asked us not to use flash and that was that. Go TCE!
I really enjoyed the very relaxed atmosphere, although, acoustic-wise I don’t know that we got the best deal, positioned as we were above the orchestra. Now I am aware that one’s first time at a venue includes a period of adjustment. You might want to check thadieu’s account in regards to the orchestral playing in general. We did agree Cercle de l’Harmonie (same period ensemble who played for Rhorer’s TCE Tito two years ago) was very good in itself. However, from where we sat Rhorer got a very loud sound out of them (the strings, of course, but the flute as well). A period ensemble, loud?! This is why I think it might have been the seats rather than the orchestra per se. The fact that both thadieu and I thought it was too loud (every singer was at times covered) at least vindicates my ears.
Then again, every time I’ve heard Don Giovanni live I thought the conductor was too energetic to begin with. Usually things settle and they did here as well though still, due to our positioning or whatever, occasionally the singers were covered. Another issue I had, confirmed later by thadieu’s friend Albena, was Rhorer’s rather rigid manner. At the beginning a lot of the orchestral detail was lost (= smudged) because he seemed very interested in a martial sound and an overly quick pace. I like a leisurely pace all in all for Mozart. The worst offense last night was Fin ch’han dal vino, which was so fast and choppy that for me it expressed nothing. It wasn’t even ugly, it was just noise.
Which brings us to the comedy in Don Giovanni. There is comedy in this – again, agreeing with Albena – efficient production but it’s not quite at the forefront. Don Giovanni himself is played as a rather sarcastic more than nihilistic dude, very well acted by Bou. He likes his fun and he is unapologetic until the end but he doesn’t overthink it, like his current ROH counterpart. In fact, though the production looks modern, it is very traditional in spirit. The Don is a cad, Donna Anna and hubby are so buttoned up they feel “English”, Donna Elvira genuinely cares for the Don and Zerlina is no innocent lamb.
In this context I felt the fast and ugly Fin ch’han dal vino stuck out like a sore, self hating thumb. Bou went with what the conductor wanted (and vocally didn’t make a strong impression one way or another) but I felt in other instances Rhorer did not help his singers when they perhaps wanted to express things that did not fit the tempo imposed.
Either by personality or design, Papatanasiu fared better when it came to this, she being the only one who could or was allowed to do her own thing. Boulianne, by contrast, was thwarted by Rhorer in Donna Elvira’s Ah, chi me dice mai. I could tell she did go for some sensitive phrasing yet the orchestra inexorably marched on. Some mismatch with the orchestra happened in Leporello’s Notte, giorno fatticar, but considering it was at the very beginning it was hard to tell who was at fault.
Then we had Humes’ curious Commendarore. As thadieu said, one expects the floor to rumble when he goes Don GIOVANNI! but he sounded like an electric guitar after the plug was pulled out of the amp. I doubt he’s a bass or even bass baritone.
My favourite of the night was Boulianne as Donna Elvira. Though the production called for a very soft hearted, even kittenish Elvira, she carried the concept very well. How often is Donna Elvira the girlier one these days? Very rarely. This is my first time seeing this take. It worked for me, though I know thadieu said she didn’t get it. She’s quietly strong rather than whip-cracking furious and quite probably – of all of Elviras – the least likely to thrive when she joins the convent at the end (if she actually goes through with it, which I doubt; I think this one will get over the Don, judging by her determination to leave him to his fate after she lasts pleads with him to mend his ways).
Vocally, though already a bigger, rounder voice than usually heard in Mozart, Boulianne has a plump mezzo tone I enjoyed a lot, as I did her forays into detail (when the orchestra dind’t cover or outright veto them). I don’t know what else she is singing these days but I am interested to hear more.
I also don’t know that Donna Anna in this specific production is the best option for hearing Papatanasiu live for the first time. Like I said she was the one who had enough experience and drive to go her own way without buckling to the orchestra in her arias, and that allowed her more expressivity, but her top is an acquired taste. Also I habitually don’t care about Donna Anna. I don’t condone the Don’s actions and I do get (better even: know) that desire is irrational but I simply don’t feel her as a character.
I did think having her and Don Ottavio act so buttoned up (in her case, literally, as she wears a suit for most of the opera which makes her look like a company exec) was astute (also helps that she can carry a suit with the best of them). These two duty bound people are faced with raw lust and they don’t quite know what to do about it. In that sense keeping the moralistic ensemble in the finale fit. For once I felt like they will from now on pretend nothing ever happened and continue their typical upper middle class existence.
Zerlina and Masetto were rather well acted, with a good amount of charisma and comic skills, and likewise sung. Here Masetto is less a country bumpkin and gets just what is happening. In La ci darem la mano Zerlina is not even trying to be coy, rather she wants to find out just how much she can get out of the Don. Later we had a scene with her abusing Leporello that I had not seen before, so I figure it usually gets cut. I didn’t think it added anything to the story, on the contrary, but it allowed Grevelius and Gleadow some more stage time.
Gleadow’s Leporello was more to my liking than Alex Esposito’s. The hard done by thing comes off well and so does the comedy, such as it is. Vocally I expected him to be shouting but he was fine, even put in some soft singing. Now keep in mind I had the opposite problem with singers last night. The Catalog aria was all right (here was, curiously, a moment when Rhorer went for slowness and I like a bit of spritz) but someone decided to loudly boo it/him. Thadieu suggested it could have been the production, which had him undressing a doll and “molesting” it. I didn’t think that was an offence to taste…
All in all a mixed bag but a very enjoyable night due to the added fun of the surroundings (my first time in Paris as an adult), TCE and, last but in no way least, the enthusiastic company of thadieu and Albena. So, yes, I’ll be keeping an eye out for TCE productions.