The David S Operaworld blog

A series of commentary on the world of opera and of serious music hopefully with links to items of broader cultural interest, correlation with the subject at hand. There is plenty of room here for a certain amount of clowning around and general irreverence - not exclusive to me - but of course no trollers or spam please. Blog for coverage of the BBC PROMS 2010 - with thoroughly proofread/upgraded coverage of the 2009 Proms and of much else.

Monday, July 12, 2010

BBC: Wien Staatsoper revival of Mozart's Don Giovanni (de Simone) - posh elegance led by saturnine d'Arcangelo, unstylishly conducted - 22.5.09

As somewhat featured highlight of Vienna State Opera’s 2009-2010 season came this revival of the Roberto De Simone production of Don Giovanni - familiar to some off dvd with Carlo Alvarez, d’Arcangelo, and Riccardo Muti. It is reckoned quite a stylized affair, as some of De Simone’s productions are – the costuming drawing slightly confusingly from different periods. Muti on his La Scala dvd of the classic Giorgio Strehler production goes the stretch in making clear definition of his interpretation of Don Giovanni – very dark, somewhat along lines of early 1950’s Fritz Reiner at the Met – whereas the studio-bound Vienna Philharmonic recording from him two years later finds things inflexible, excessively strained to its own detriment. Such has discouraged me from seeking out the newer dvd. I only trust d’Arcangelo to doe a little better as Leporello than he did for Daniel Harding at Salzburg, opposite Thomas Hampson.

This revival was conducted by young, upwardly mobile Greek maestro Constantinos Carydis; one most of all had to rely upon the singing to pick up any profile to this Don Giovanni, since from Carydis it mostly lacked any. Ildebrando d’Arcangelo proved making the move from servant to master one he had handled with tremendous ease. He proved somewhat a saturnine, otherworldly presence as the Don, of fully convincing aristocratic bearing, while also proving flexible at interaction with his Leporello. There was no doubt however his letting Leporello, and then especially the Masetto know who is boss, until, before a bewildered sounding d’Arcangelo, the statue at dinner has the tables turned on him. This proved quite an exciting interpretation, one in picking up in thoroughly three-dimensional perspective the part’s demonic qualities - making such essential key in getting just about everything else therein.

d’Arcangelo’s voice is not very large, but there is enough buzz behind quite rapid vibrato therein with which he helps make it sound bigger; the Don causes him no apparent strain. His nobility, even at times grandiosity, and solicitousness in approaching women proved winning, while making overt the Don’s epicurean zeal for life and also slight, brusque impatience for anything that might stand in his way. d’Arcangelo was able to sound baritonal enough on top for recitative and other lighter passages, but it could also always be heard what reserves down deep he had upon which to draw at any time. This was true, even with the fine ease and legato with which he sang ‘Deh vieni’, the serenade in Act Two. We were not quite in the presence of another Siepi or Pinza here; it is hard to imagine how the Don could today be much better sung or acted than this.

Even ever slightly better was the by now definitive Leporello of Rene Pape. Pape has grown a little in the part, his voice slightly darker, than when seen at the Met in the new Marthe Keller production five years earlier as Leporello. All mix of humor, irony, sarcasm, envy of the Don, dismay, occasionally open disgust, fatigue moreover with the Don got put on fine, but never overstated display here. Pape proved a Leporello worthy of a Don, such as that of d’Arcangelo. d’Arcangelo clearly acknowledged it so. Pape’s posing as the Don befuddled before Donna Elvira proved example of a Leporello close to as conspiratorial enough with the Don as just being his servant and very funny. ‘Madamina’, with fine legato, arch to its line for its second half, had some of the best pointing of its text I have ever heard, all as though unaware - very funny.

There was never the feeling one has to broadly sell the humor of Leporello, and this was no more clearly felt than during the cemetery scene, not thoroughly all buffo elements to it discarded, but the fear, nervousness Leporello feels before the marble statue was seriously felt to extent, one could also pick up slight clue of uncertainty from d’Arcangelo as well. Neither d’Arcangelo nor Pape was better than the other at trying to disguise his voice as the other early on in Act Two, but from both it was enough that it was plausible how it could have fooled the other characters onstage, while still letting us in on who it always really was up there. Pape’s Italian diction, patter with it was first-rate and nuance thereof. The other bass or bass-baritone who in the past twenty years who has so smoothly made the transition from being Leporello to Don has been someone most certainly underrated at it – Feruccio Furlanetto. When he recorded it, he proved the Don practically to be a better part for him than the servant, and while opposite the slightly too heavy Leporello of John Tomlinson. These two make practically as fine a team as can be heard anywhere on disc, and so could d’Arcangelo and Pape.

Rene Pape is next, if he has not yet made the transition already. Nearly capping such a delightful Leporello was the beginning of the supper scene. Pape let most diction and even for a few notes intonation go completely south on him to depict servant gorging his face and hardly able to restrain himself of, unmarked, humming along the tune with the winds as he went about it. Even with Carydis rushing, lightly clipping the tune of ‘Non piu andrai’ in the winds onstage, Pape hilariously got the message across. It was not the only moment that Pape made it clear how much Leporello envies his master, albeit purposefully subtler at doing so earlier.

Ricarda Merbeth made noble lady of Donna Anna, grievous tragedy of her loss felt, with good line, warm timbre, but also a degree of tremolo that made both break and top unstable. She capably made for herself that Carydis’s slightly ruthless, definitely glib pushing ahead of tempo during opening duet with Ottavio, accompanied recitative and vengeance aria not much stand in her way. She eventually managed during scena with Ottavio and following vengeance aria to sally forth several solidly firm acuti.

One hopes that Merbeth can lighten somewhat her use of her voice, certainly a fine instrument, approach to music as well that she need not push either so dark or even hard at times - as she seems wont nowadays. Much of ‘Non mi dir’, with lovely floated B-Flat right before start of the aria also went quite well, but Carydis set little contrast of tempo between opening Larghetto and Allegretto, both of which sounded quasi Andante from opposite directions; unfortunately then some strain, hooty tone set in for the closing section of the aria. Phrasing during the earlier Act 2 sextet however was particularly lovely, following misshapen frame from trumpets on their brief turn into D Major.

Michael Schade made an excessively obsequious, even at times retiring Don Ottavio. Expectation of such an Ottavio putting forth any real kind of defiance or vindictiveness to anybody probably has to be reckoned to go for naught. Voice and persona are still pleasing enough, though for even just for Mozart’s lyricism, a little more firmness of line should enhance matters. Carydis’s streamlining of ‘Il mio tesoro’ was insensitive to Schade and Mozart’s music alike, leaving tenor really a little too high and dry toward being able to make smooth enough re-transition to reprise of the aria’s opening.

Possibly even a better match for the Ottavio of Michael Schade than the more sturm und drang Merbeth was the somewhat ingénue Elvira of Soile Isokoski. Hints of t Maria Stader interpretation for Ferenc Fricsay, on his fifty year old studio recording of the piece definitely came to mind. Carydis played accompaniment to her part, to practically reassure we were seldom going to get any strong accents for anything. Much of the lovely tone, phrasing, sympathy for what she was singing was there, much as it would be with a Stader or even Janowitz (had she ever sung this), but something of the fiery lady of Burgos went missing – with memories of Antonacci playing Elvira in this production probably still fresh. She, to be on the safe side, played verbal exchange with the Don for comic effect, but fortunately again without overstating it, as it is best to side – taking into account Elvira’s confronting of the Don in front of Zerlina seconds after ‘La ci darem’ – with Elvira’s intent as really being instead quite serious.

Isokoski certainly tried singing ‘In quail eccessi’ (one accompanied recitative better than aria to follow it), but Carydis, to affect being ‘period’ tended to heavily clip the rests between her lines. Lack of profile was such that Isokoski, though very fluent with the runs through ‘Mi tradi’, lightly lost intonation several times. Pair of brief trios anticipating statue’s arrival in the dinner scene also got streamlined from the podium, but Isokoski still managed somehow to convincingly eke out sympathy for the character, and for her brief lines in the epilogue as well. She managed to start off strongly for ‘Ah che lo dice mai’ during first encounter we see between her and Don Giovanni.

Michaela Selinger was the lovely, somewhat dark-toned Zerlina. Incipient tone of worry in her voice in meeting up with the Don and then with Masetto a couple of times afterwards certainly felt real instead of cloying. Apart from being a little under the note at the break for the latter, her singing of both ‘Batti’, batti’ and ‘Vedrai carino’ was fine, showing doting care for her Masetto, played by Boaz Daniel very convincingly as naïve bumpkin but also as with eyes wide awake as to what the Don’s shenanigans are. The beating of Masetto in Act Two sounded especially light, as though Masetto just barely getting slapped around. It is definitely a more violent moment than it sounded here.

Boaz Daniel, in place of unwelcome caricature as Masetto, vocally made handsome profile of the part, as still worthy suitor to Zerlina. The half swallowing up of the cello obbligato into blend of overall orchestral texture during ‘Batti, batti’ showed further insensitivity, inexperience on the part of Mr. Carydis, but Selinger somehow still remained at ease in caressing, even at times almost floating her lines through it and with gently incisive pointing to lightly bring the the aria to a close. Eric Halfvarson convincingly put human face, sense of outrage on his Commendatore for opening scene, but had trouble toward making any convincing menace of the statue, trying to avoid a too persistent wobble. Carydis’s streamlining of, rushing through the final scene of opera proper (before epilogue) undercut the terror that should definitely be felt here. Fortepiano continuo, with all wit, charm, grace, insinuation he could put into playing and ornamenting the part was absolutely first-rate; Vienna State Opera chorus was also fine.

Getting past adequately shaped overture and also accompaniment of less complex numbers in the opera itself, the Vienna State Opera orchestra, while smooth in execution, maintaining line and balances, offered too often faceless, even weightless playing, especially in terms of support for the singers on stage. Constantinos Carydis, though he clearly has some ear for Mozart, became here too prude in observing ‘period’ or ‘quasi-period’ notions (as this was still played on modern instruments) while not nearly observant enough of form and proportions to such as even the quartet, ‘Non ti fidar’ in Act One (almost entirely denied its character and how it develops), not to mention sextet in Act Two, with which he was more careful – still not good enough – not for the Vienna State Opera. Finale to Act One, especially its second part, from refrian of ‘liberta’s’ through stormy end to it just sailed glibly by – with internal contrasts to first part of the extended finale missed as well.

Should grandeur be considered out-of-date, approaching Mozart’s Don Giovanni, then even while quasi-period we are no longer ‘period’ enough anymore. D’Arcangelo, even with Rene Pape the Leporello, stood out in this cast as perhaps best for what the podium was missing. It may be a darker interpretation of the Don than to which we are accustomed nowadays, but far better this than the hyper-kinetic light baritone who often in a bad production instead gets the lead. Carydis yielded often well to d’Arcangelo, except for too rushed Champagne Aria; even so, something failed to register here. Take it from someone who likes very much, proudly owns already mentioned Erato Barenboim recording of this, with equally powerful, convincing pair of master and servant it offers.

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At December 15, 2010 at 4:20 PM , Blogger Don Quixote said...

Why of course Janowitz has performed the role of Donna Elvira. Check these out:

Act I Scene III Quartet

Act I Scene IV Finale

Act II Scene II Sextet


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