Inconsistent, but worth seeing to see and hear one of the best Dons in recent years
'Don Giovanni' is not just one of Mozart's best but also one of my favourite operas of all time. Its story is dark, complex, suspenseful with a nice humorous touch at times, the characters are interesting (especially the titular character) and the music is wonderful, a case of not a bad aria, ensemble or note in the entire score.
There are better 'Don Giovannis' around than this 2013 production from Baden-Baden, primarily the Joseph Losey film, the 1990 Met production, the Karajan-conducted performance and the production with Cesare Siepi. This said, there are also worse ones too, such as 2011's La Scala production, Gerald Finley's, the musically strong but visually and dramatically distasteful Netherlands performance and especially Calixto Bieito's disastrous-nearly-all-round production (apart from the Leporello and Elvira), also prefer it over Salzburg's as part of the "Mozart 22" series which wasn't bad but this production had the better cast and didn't badly bungle the final Commendatore scene.
With this 'Don Giovanni' there are problems. It is not particularly appealing visually, with incongruous costumes and a very plain and drab set that never offers any variety or elegance, time and place is always very vague here. Lighting is sometimes atmospheric, like in the graveyard scene and the final Commendatore scene, but fail to make the rest of the production values more appealing. The staging is inconsistent. Love the chemistry between Giovanni and Leporello, which has to be done right to work a production of 'Don Giovanni' and it does thankfully, there is a creepy intensity to the graveyard scene, there is a nice balance of humour, dark tension and poignancy, "La Ci Darem La Mano" is romantic and seductive and the end of Act 1 is quite exciting.
However, other parts of the staging is too cluttered and too busy as a result of trying to do too much which does confuse the drama, there are ideas that don't really add anything to the story and while the final Commendatore scene had some creepy moments it does lack drama in other places, Giovanni's descent to hell has been more nail-biting elsewhere. Those who don't like cuts also beware, Ottavio's "Il Mio Tesoro" and Elvira's "Mi Tradi" are omitted. This reviewer is not usually fussed about cuts, but the omissions of these two arias are inexplicable really, as they add so much to the two characters ("Il Mio Tesoro" stops Ottavio from being completely pointless, though it's still a pretty thankless role with two beautiful arias and some involvement in a couple of ensembles even with the aria) and are crucial to the drama.
It does sound like this review is turning you off seeing the production, but its good things are a great many. And the best of these good things are phenomenal. It is a musically outstanding production, with only a few moments of undernourishment from the orchestra when they're exposed and on their own, the overture does lack a little rousing drive and dramatic intensity, letting things down. The orchestra a vast majority of the time play beautifully and with power, energetic style and nuances, they also do a great job accompanying the arias and ensembles and are very accommodating to the singers. The chorus are strong and involved, and Thomas Hengelbrock conducts with sensitivity and energy.
One element in particular makes this production worth seeing, which is the performance of Erwin Schrott in the title role. Simply put, to me he is one of the best Dons in recent years. He positively smoulders here, and is every bit the seducer, black hearted murderer, sinister charmer, bringing an animalistic sexuality and an obsessiveness pitched just right. He also sounds wonderful (looks it too), a dark rich voice with many colours and shade used with subtlety. While the others are not quite up to his level, they are still very good. Particularly faring well are Anna Netrebko (once married to Schrott) and Katija Dragojevic. Netrebko has grown in her interpretation of Donna Anna, her voice captivates throughout especially in a very poignant "Non Mi Dir" and the character's grief and thirst for vengeance are brought out very effectively by her, very movingly but also very frighteningly. Dragojevic is a charming and wholly adorable Zerlina, with a flexible and not too heavy or too light voice.
Charles Castronovo is a more sympathetic than usually portrayed Ottavio, and he makes much of little, though the cut of "Il Mio Tesoro" doesn't allow his vengeful side to fully convince. He displays some stylish and elegant singing, with a very musically sung and nuanced "Dalla Sua Pace" (yet another Mozart aria that is harder than it looks). Luca Pisaroni is very funny as Leporello, with a cracker of a rendition of the Catalogo aria. Malena Ernman is a thrillingly deranged and spiteful Elvira with a timbre that like Dragojevic (though heavier) is not too heavy or too light and has agility, Jonathan Lemalu is a confidently sung and suitably diffident Massetto with the jealousy and anger coming through well and Mario Luperi is quite terrifying as the Commendatore.
Overall, an inconsistent production but has a very good cast and is worth seeing to see and hear one of the best Dons in recent years, Schrott really is that good and it is easy to see why it has become a signature role of his. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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