Rhythmic Force and Vocal Excellence: Don Giovanni at the Konzerthaus Dortmund

Mozart – Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni – Dimitris Tiliakos

Leporello – Vito Priante

Donna Anna – Myrtò Papatanasiu

Donna Elvira – Karina Gauvin

Don Ottavio – Kenneth Tarver

Zerlina – Christina Gansch

Masetto – Guido Loconsolo

Commendatore – Mika Kares

MusicAeterna / Teodor Currentzis.

Concert performance.

Konzerthaus Dortmund, Dortmund.  Tuesday, November 17th, 2015.

This marked my first visit to the Konzerthaus Dortmund and it is indeed a very handsome venue.  They run a stimulating program of events, including appearances by some of the world’s leading musicians as well as interesting concerts by the fine local forces.  Dortmund is accessible via the local airport which is connected to London, England and a number of Eastern European cities as well as via Düsseldorf Airport a short train ride away.  It’s certainly worth a visit – the acoustic is nicely resonant, seats are comfortable and the welcome is friendly.

The Konzerthaus Dortmund © Daniel Sumesgutner
The Konzerthaus Dortmund © Daniel Sumesgutner
Over the last few days, the Konzerthaus has been presenting MusicAeterna with their musical director Teodor Currentzis in the three Mozart/Da Ponte operas.  I joined them tonight for the final instalment with Don Giovanni.  This also marked the first time Karina Gauvin has sung the role of Elvira live.  She recorded it last year for Sony in Perm, Russia, the city where Currentzis and his ensemble are based, and the recording is due for release in fall 2016, following the box sets of Le Nozze di Figaro and Così fan tutte which have already been released.  These recordings have been controversial, not only because of Currentzis’ choice of very swift tempi, but also due to the some of the casting choices on these previous sets.  The results are certainly thought-provoking and I was eager to see how this works in concert.

Teodor Currentzis and MusicAeterna in Così fan tutte at the Konzerthaus Dortmund © Pascal Amos Rest
Teodor Currentzis and MusicAeterna in Così fan tutte at the Konzerthaus Dortmund © Pascal Amos Rest
Indeed, for me the biggest disappointment of the night was Currentzis’ conducting.  He prioritized rhythmic thrusting over melodic phrasing with the effect that the orchestral contribution quickly became tiring.  The musicians of MusicAeterna played with extreme virtuosity and unanimity of approach and despite the extremely swift tempi, intonation was true and the sound world was absolutely fascinating, yet the constant thrusting meant that it grated.  Currentzis is extremely active on the platform – he often jumps off the podium and dances with the singers, at times seemingly making them interact with him rather than with the audience.  His constant foot stamping also reinforced the impression that this was a performance punched out rather than living with genuine wit and charm.  Paradoxically, the constant rhythmic pushing and relative sameness of tempi meant that the first act felt longer than it actually was – so many tempo markings went for nothing, the più stretto in the closing pages of Act 1 ignored for example.  In the second act, things changed slightly as Currentzis at times allowed the singers a little more space to phrase their numbers.  Ornamentation was used frequently and to very positive effect.  Clearly, Currentzis lives the music, has coached his singers well, and they were at one with his approach.  Yet the overall impression I left with was that this evening was a success despite, rather than because, of Currentzis’ tempo choices.

Dimitris Tiliakos © Irini Michopoulou
Dimitris Tiliakos © Irini Michopoulou
Vocally it was somewhat mixed but where it was good, it was indeed very, very good.  Dimitris Tiliakos was a very late replacement for the scheduled Andrè Schuen.  The Hellenic baritone is a frequent collaborator with Currentzis but it seems he has not sung Don Giovanni for three years.  His repertoire includes a lot of Verdi and under the circumstances, given the limited rehearsal and short notice, he did a very creditable job.  Naturally he used his score throughout and he was certainly very stylish, he is the owner of a decent legato and gave us some highly inventive ornamentation.  So much of the character of Don Giovanni is developed through the recitatives and this is where Tiliakos, perhaps inevitably, wasn’t at his best – the character barely formed and little made of the text.  Again, given the late notice, this was understandable.

Vito Priante in Così fan tutte at the Konzerthaus Dortmund © Pascal Amos Rest
Vito Priante in Così fan tutte at the Konzerthaus Dortmund © Pascal Amos Rest
Vito Priante gave us a sensational Leporello, one of the finest I have heard.  He sang with eloquent wit, his catalogue aria was absolutely show-stopping.  He sang all of his music with pointed attention to the text, highly physical acting and the kind of grace and elegance that was missing in the orchestra.  He transcended the concert hall setting to produce a real lived-in performance that was absolutely spot-on.  Guido Loconsolo was a masculine and gruff Masetto and also managed to transcend the concert hall setting through his use of words and physicality.  Miko Kares was a resonant and large-voiced Commendatore, absolutely gripping in the Stone Guest scene.

Guido Loconsolo © Zemsky Green Artists
Guido Loconsolo © Zemsky Green Artists
Kenneth Tarver gave us an eloquent and honeyed Don Ottavio singing ‘dalla sua pace’ with effortless breath control, elegant ornamentation and an easy line.  Likewise, ‘il mio tesoro’ was dispatched with the utmost fluency, effortlessly intricate ornamentation and a genuine understanding of the shape of the music.  If there’s one thing I felt that Tarver lacks, it’s full idiomatic use of the language.  His Italian is respectable but some of the consonants could be sharpened up and more made of the text.  His was certainly an impressive assumption of the role however.

Kenneth Tarver © Joan Tomás
Kenneth Tarver © Joan Tomás
The ladies were also deeply impressive.  Myrtò Papatanasiu was a fine Donna Anna.  The voice is somewhat narrow and becomes slightly grainy on top but she dispatched her music with great feeling and dramatic flair.  ‘Or sai chi l’onore’ was highly strung and she phrased ‘non mi dir’ with expressiveness, adding some wonderfully animated ornaments.  She certainly had the vocal strength to sustain the lines and she made the role her own.  Christina Gansch’s Zerlina was sung with crystalline tone, an easy line and managed well with a tempo for ‘batti, batti’ that turned it into something that sounded like highly syncopated Stravinsky.

Myrtò Papatanasiu © Myrtò Papatanasiu
Myrtò Papatanasiu © Myrtò Papatanasiu
Gauvin’s Elvira was something very special.  As this was her first live outing of the role, she was singing from the score and with time she will surely deepen her interpretation even further.  Her ‘ah chi mi dice mai’ was stunning, absolutely dominating the stage from her first entry with fabulous ornamentation that completely enhanced the vocal line and made it sound like she was the only person in the world who could sing it.  She then gave us a ‘mi tradì’ of genuine feeling, sung with fine generosity of tone and ease of breath control.  Her performance tonight genuinely had hints of greatness – as a first assumption it was extremely impressive – and I very much hope that a theatre will engage her to sing the role in a staged production.  She is a marvellous actress and I can only imagine that with more experience in the role, she will grow into a truly great Elvira.

Karina Gauvin © Julien Faugère
Karina Gauvin © Julien Faugère
The performance was given in a mise en espace that used the full area of the auditorium to create an engaging and stimulating telling of the tale and one that allowed the artists who wished to use scores to do so.  The chorus sang well with fresh tone and excellent ensemble.  Clearly the orchestra had been prepared exceptionally well and was at one with Currentzis’ vision.  The quality of the playing was truly unmistakable and their accuracy absolutely staggering.  Yet it left me cold.  I felt little of that all-embracing, life-enhancing force I felt with Jacobs in Paris for example, despite the genuine excellence of tonight’s vocal performances and the playing.  As far as the conducting was concerned, this was a brutalist Don Giovanni, one that impressed due to the force of the vision but despite some fleeting moments it didn’t seduce.  It did give tantalizing glimpses of some truly outstanding performances from Priante and Gauvin and I very much hope to get to see them in staged performances soon.

Christina Gansch © Salzburger Festspiele / Franz Neumayr Mika Kares © Boris Orlob Management
Christina Gansch © Salzburger Festspiele / Franz Neumayr
Mika Kares © Boris Orlob Management
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