Mozart – Don Giovanni
Don Giovanni – Christopher Maltman
Leporello – Alex Esposito
Donna Anna – Albina Shagimuratova
Donna Elvira – Dorothea Röschmann
Don Ottavio – Michele Angelini
Zerlina – Yulia Lezhneva
Masetto – Nahuel di Pierro
Commendatore – Eric Halfvarson
Royal Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House / Alain Altinoglu. Stage director – Kasper Holten
Royal Opera House, London. Saturday, June 20th, 2015.
Kasper Holten’s staging of Don Giovanni was premiered last year to mixed reviews. While there were some who loved it, others had a more negative reaction. I found it interesting but ultimately any insights it might have offered were dwarfed by the video projections that over-dominated the singers. For its first revival, I chose to sit in the stalls circle seats close to the stage. There I found it much more successful. The visuals were less prominent and it meant that I could focus more on the singers’ dramatic performances. It made me think that perhaps if they dropped the video projections completely, this might be a more penetrating show than it might have initially seemed. There were some changes – Elvira rather than having a Tippi Hedren moment of being surrounded by a flock of video birds in ‘mi tradì’ now interacts with Giovanni. Likewise, Anna’s ‘non mi dir’ is now staged as a farewell to the titular character so that his gradual abandonment by his circle is made complete at the very end. The problem is that in a way, this was done far more successfully in Warlikowski’s Brussels staging where Giovanni was seen as a symptom of the behaviour of others. Tonight, it ended with Giovanni alone on stage. The problem was that as a viewer I felt nothing for him, no sympathy, no hate, just a sense of ‘was that it?’. Furthermore, having invested three and a half hours in the company of the other characters, it was extremely disappointing that Holten decided not to stage the finale. I’ll say it again – the finale serves to tie up the story both dramatically and musically. Ending the piece at the end of the Stone Guest scene means that one leaves the theatre with the sense of a cadence desperately in search of a resolution.
I saw Christopher Maltman’s Giovanni in Munich at the start of the year. There I found his singing musically fine but lacking in individuality. Tonight, the voice sounded tired and the serenade felt more serviceable than seductive. In part, it was due to a lack of engagement with the text. There is so much detail in Da Ponte’s text that he could have brought out. There were also a number of occasions where he lost contact with the pit. Maltman on a good night is a fine singer. I’m afraid to say that this wasn’t one and I hate to say the overwhelming impression was one of blandness.
Alex Esposito’s Leporello is familiar not only from last year’s premiere but also a number of other stagings. His is a superb incarnation of the part and one that has gained added nuance and detail since last year. He throws himself with terrific abandon into the role and the voice is in fabulous shape. He also added a couple of embellishments here and there which were very welcome. Nahuel di Pierro was a wonderfully gruff Masetto. Sung with rustic charm, he also threw himself into the staging and found a pathos in the role that one doesn’t often see. I hope we will get to see his Leporello soon. Eric Halfvarson boomed magnificently as the Commendatore.
The ladies were a bit mixed. Albina Shagimuratova was a rock solid Anna, phrasing her music with generosity. She very occasionally landed on the underside of the note and there was perhaps a limited range of tone colours but the strength of the tone was deeply impressive. Dorothea Röschmann likewise sang Elvira with generous force. Her ‘mi tradi’ showed some decent breath control. Sadly, neither singer ornamented her arias which made them seem anonymous. While grateful to hear both well sung, I longed for some individuality, for both singers to grab the music and make it seem like they were the only people in the world who could sing it. That was missing tonight. Yulia Lezhneva’s Zerlina was problematic. Sung in a penetrating tone, the voice certainly has volume. However, her tendency to sharpness meant that contributions to the ensembles were harsh to listen to and the intervals in her arias were less than optimally judged. She’s very young, still only 26, and has been singing professionally for 5 years. The overwhelming impression I have is of someone naturally gifted who has been pushed too far, too soon.
I have left Michele Angelini’s Ottavio until last. His was a truly superb rendition of the role. He demonstrated an implicit understanding of the Mozartian style that was a complete delight to listen to. His ‘dalla sua pace’ was sung with honeyed tone, effortlessly long lines and sensitive ornamentation. Then, ‘il mio tesoro’ was dispatched with effortless ease, stunning embellishments to the line, remarkable evenness of emission and registers completely integrated. That unforced virtuosity that he demonstrated in last September’s Barbiere was most certainly there. There is a musicality to Angelini’s singing that is very special. An artist to watch undoubtedly.
Alain Altinoglu’s conducting demonstrated some inoffensive tempi that kept the show moving along nicely. He seemed to have a grasp of the internal dialogue of the score yet phrasing was perfunctory and the orchestra showed a lack of articulation and attack that meant that despite the swift tempi, it felt somewhat heavy. Worse, the intonation of the strings could charitably be described as ‘approximate’.
This revival is certainly worth seeing for Angelini’s Ottavio, Esposito’s Leporello and di Pierro’s Masetto. Shagimuratova and Röschmann are both vocally impressive but I found both forgettable on an interpretative level. Certainly, it’s a decent rendition and the audience clearly found much to enjoy. It was great to see so many young people in the audience and the public clearly engaged with the staging and singing.