Mozart – Don Giovanni
Don Giovanni – Johannes Weisser
Leporello – Marcos Fink
Donna Anna – Birgitte Christensen
Donna Elvira – Alexandrina Pendatchanska
Don Ottavio – Jeremy Ovenden
Zerlina – Im Sunhae
Masetto – Tareq Nazmi
Commendatore – Tareq Nazmi
Le Jeune chœur de Paris, Freiburger Barockorchester / René Jacobs
Philharmonie de Paris, Paris. Sunday, June 7th, 2015.
This was a truly life-enhancing experience. Indeed for a moment during the Act 1 finale, it genuinely felt as if one was in the presence of genius. It felt less like one was watching a performance, more that one was instead watching a living, breathing recreation of a masterpiece. As performances go, this one will be pretty much unforgettable. Today’s performance was part of a world tour that took in a number of European cities as well as Shanghai and Beijing. Indeed, the cast had given a performance in Beijing only 60 hours earlier and their stamina and energy was absolutely breathtaking.
It was my first visit to the new Philharmonie de Paris. The venue itself is unfinished. Some of the washrooms are not ready and there are still a number of signs that the builders are not too far away. As a venue for opera in concert, I’m not sure it works as a significant number of seats are located behind the stage and suffered with balance accordingly. If attending a vocal performance there, I strongly recommend ensuring that you get a seat at the front of the stage. It’s a handsome venue certainly and the acoustic is nicely resonant giving lots of space around the voices.
As with his Figaro also in Paris two years ago and his more recent Entführung in Amsterdam, René Jacobs offered us a mise-en-espace that used the whole of the stage and created such wonderful interaction between the characters, that one didn’t miss the sets and costumes. Each individual interacted with the other in a totally convincing way, creating flesh and blood characters in a way that transcended the concert hall setting. It worked fantastically well.
Some of the singers tonight were familiar from Jacobs’ 2007 recording of the work. Johannes Weisser was a superb Don Giovanni. The voice has youthful freshness with a seductive warmth that is ideal for this character. He caressed the lines in ‘la ci darem’ and the serenade in the most beguiling way. He is also highly energetic, throwing himself completely into the role. He savours the text bringing out so much poetry in the way that the best interpreters do. What strikes me about his interpretation is that this is very much a young man’s interpretation – the youthfulness of the tone really is captivating – yet it is also a complete one. He is so completely believable. The Mozartian style is most certainly there with some splendid ornamentation as indeed it was for the whole cast.
Marcos Fink gave us a gruff and nicely witty Leporello. He also savoured the text in the most remarkable way. The voice had nice resonance and contrasted well with Weisser. His comic timing was beyond reproach. Jeremy Ovenden was a very fine Ottavio. He delivered both his arias with sappy and fresh tone, long lines and highly musical embellishments. Indeed, in the single tempo misfire of the show, I wish Jacobs had given him a little more space to work in for ‘dalla sua pace’. The voice has a nice roundness and he is an exceptionally musical singer. Certainly one to watch. As in Mozart’s time, Masetto and the Commendatore were taken by the same singer and Tareq Nazmi was deeply impressive. He had the strength for the older character’s booming lines but also the comic timing for the new husband. It’s a big, round voice with wonderful warmth and his encounter in the final scene with Weisser’s Giovanni was absolutely gripping.
For the ladies, Birgitte Christensen is a name new to me and one I hope we will be seeing a lot more of. The Norwegian soprano has a rock solid voice and was completely unfazed by the long lines and the florid writing. ‘Or sai che l’onore’ was sung with fearless strength and resolve. She also gave us some ravishing soft singing in a beautifully introspective and highly stylish (stunning ornamentation again) rendition of ‘non mi dir’. Alexandrina Pendatchanska reprised her familiar Elvira. It was indeed familiar in vocal timbre yet today she gave us a living, breathing performance of Elvira’s music as if she was creating it there and then herself. It was impeccably ornamented in her fruity soprano with a generous chest register and a bright, metallic top. Her ‘mi tradi’ was stunning, with seemingly endless breath control and sung with meticulous attention to dynamics. Im Sunhae made much more of Zerlina than we often see. She was a highly vivacious presence on stage, her sparkling tone a combination of cream and champagne.
The Freiburgers played like heroes – the quality of the playing was unmistakable and I loved the way Sebastian Wienand’s fortepiano continuo scintillated within the orchestra during the arias. The Act 1 finale was absolutely marvellous, the addition of tambourines adding a rhythmic impetus to the texture that was unmistakable. Giovanni might have been sent to hell but we as an audience were undoubtedly in musical heaven. The leanness of the textures meant that I heard so much more detail than one ordinarily gets to hear and it also meant that when the trombones entered in Act 2, they made a real impact. They were joined by the fresh and youthful voices of Le Jeune chœur de Paris. Jacobs’ tempi, with that one exception, felt absolutely right and the use of ornamentation really helped make the performance live in the most unforgettable way.
This was a truly exceptional performance of an oft-performed classic by a cast at the very top of their game led by a conductor who has a profound understanding of the Mozartian style. It became a living, breathing masterpiece right in front of our eyes. An unforgettable afternoon, one that will stay with me for a very long time.