Don Giovanni 2013
Sir Thomas was one of the greatest interpreters of the title role in recent years, and has not always been entirely complimentary about the directors who were in charge of the various stagings he graced around the world. His overall view of this impossible masterpiece was therefore fascinating in prospect. And Scottish Opera badly needed a good Don Giovanni – it was nearly twenty years since they had an adequate one, over thirty since they had a substantially successful production. They have tried with enthusiasm undimmed, but the results have been uninspiring. It is thus cheering to find that, for the most part, this staging pretty much fulfils those requirements.
The setting was the fascinating city of Venice in the baroque period. Dark, dank, sinister, with Donna Elvira arriving by gondola, and a canal across the front of the stage. Elements of the set moved on and off easily – most of the time the playong area was restricted, almost claustrophobic. It only opened out for the two act finales. Some novel touches – the Commendatore apparently being stabbed by Leporello didn’t quite work. But the graveyard scene, in which the builders are still putting the Commendatore’s memorial together, most certainly did – scaffolding, canvas, a ladder – apart from anything else, it provided something for the singer to lean against. Another novelty was the use of a screen of fire to shield Giovanni’s escape at the interval. This of course prefigured the return of the flames at the end, from which there was no escape.
Most of the characterizations worked well. Masetto much of the time was easily roused and potentially violent, but then very protective of Zerlina when required. Ottavio rather a dull individual, almost wimpish, ready to fetch the authorities, far less willing to take action himself. Anna was, in the second half, at least, shadowed by a couple of nuns, to show that she really might take the veil. They ignore Elvira, who, in the end, does just that. The three women were all strongly drawn, and Zerlina’s reconciliation with Masetto during ‘Vedrai, carino’ really was quite moving. Giovanni and Leporello themselves didn’t reveal any particularly startling insights, just a pair of rounded believable characters, for which we may be grateful. Giovanni is rarely seen to be so consistently cheerful, with a broad grin lighting up the stage. But then the famous drinking song was unusually restrained (very welcome).
The title-role was taken by young South African baritone Jacques Imbrailo, whose Billy Budd at Glyndebourne was deservedly highly praised (and by fortunate timing was televised on BBC-4 during the Edinburgh run). He was also on the Jette Parker scheme at Covent Garden, singing several major roles. The hype so far seems justified – an absolutely confident and accomplished first attempt at the role.The Hungarian baritone Péter Kálmán, also appearing here for the first time, made a stalwart Leporello. Beautifully sung and sharply acted, perhaps taller than usual, quickly revealing his own roving eye, and thus sparking the idea of blaming him for the attack on Zerlina.
Lisa Milne made a welcome return as Elvira, some eighteen years after her memorable Zerlina in John Cax’s staging (a production that was by no means perfect, but contained many excellent things). There was none of the suggestion common in other stagings of near-hysteria or even pregnancy. Just a deeply-wounded lady who, despite her best efforts, still loves the rake. Anita Watson joined the company for the first time as Anna. She was a late replacement for Susan Gritton on opening night, and ended up singing the entire run. This was a strong performance dramatically, making the character more than usually believable. and in general confidently sung – only the definition of her coloratura was occasionally less than perfect.
Ed Lyon sang his two arias quite beautifully, including decorations. It seemed all the more surprising then that (at least on 19 October) his vocalisation of the dramatically vital recitatives was a bit lacking in dramatic power. It was a decidedly middle-aged characterization, which seemed an odd decision given the youth and natural liveliness of the singer – after all, Ottavio can bear several different readings. Anna Devin was able to do more with the character than she had earlier this year as Sophie in Werther. Not only was she able to manipulate Masetto at will and show a degree of willingness when Giovanni approached. But, much affected by his singing of ‘Il mio tesoro’ she even looked as though she was considering Ottavio as a possible challenge. Needless to say, she sang both her arias most attractively. Barnaby Rea and Jóhann Smári Saevarsson also made valuable contributions.
The evening’s conductor, Speranza Scappucci, was a completely unknown quantity in Scotland before these performances. She led a thoroughly enjoyable account of the score, drawing an excellent performance from the orchestra in true chamber music style. None of the speeds were rushed, but everything flowed naturally, with lots of bubbly woodwind.
Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow
15 Oct, 19.15 18 Oct, 19.15 20 Oct, 16.00 22 Oct, 19.15 24 Oct, 19.15 26 Oct, 19.15
His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen | Aberdeen
31 Oct, 19.30 2 Nov, 19.30
Eden Court Theatre | Inverness
7 Nov, 19.15 9 Nov, 19.15
Festival Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh
14 Nov, 19.15 17 Nov, 16.00 19 Nov, 19.15 21 Nov, 19.15 23 Nov, 19.15
- Leporello Giovanni’s servant
- Péter Kálmán
- Donna Anna the Commendatore’s daughter
- Anita Watson
- Don Giovanni a young nobleman
- Jacques Imbrailo
- Commendatore an elderly aristocrat
- Jóhann Smári Saevarsson
- Don Ottavio engaged to Anna
- Ed Lyon
- Donna Elvira a lady from Burgos
- Lisa Milne
- Zerlina a peasant girl
- Anna Devin (Oct 15, 18, 20, 24; Nov 7, 17, 19, 23)
Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson (Oct 22, 26, 31; Nov 2, 9, 14, 21)
- Masetto a peasant, engaged to Zerlina
- Barnaby Rea
- Speranza Scappucci (Exc Nov 9)
James Grossmith (Nov 9)
- Thomas Allen
- Designer – Sets
- Simon Higlett
- Designer – Costumes
- Simon Higlett
- Mark Jonathan
- Kally Lloyd-Jones
- Boston Lyric Opera
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (born Salzburg, 27 January 1756; died Vienna, 5 December 1791)
Lorenzo da Ponte.
Several works, especially the libretto Don Giovanni Tenorio (1787) by Giovanni Bertati, set by Gazzaniga.
First performance: Prague (National Theatre), 29 October 1787.
First UK performance: London (King’s Theatre, Haymarket), 12 April 1817.
First performance in Scotland: (tbc)
Scottish Opera première: Glasgow (King’s Theatre), 16 May 1964.
Mozart was commissioned to produce a new opera to follow the success of the first Prague performance of The Marriage of Figaro, and he and da Ponte worked very rapidly on the collaboration. Of all operas, this is one of the most endlessly fascinating, and one of the most difficult to get right, with rapid alternations of dark drama with outrageous comedy. The situations centre on Giovanni’s last day on earth, and his several attempts, all apparently unsuccessful, to seduce the various women he meets. Its impact can vary hugely, depending on how the various characters are interpreted, so even a minor character like Ottavio can vary from ineffectual elderly fop to grim young Jacobean avenger. While Giovanni is usually played young, and the first interpreter of the part was only 22, he may be presented equally well as a middle-aged man losing his touch.
The Commendatore, an elderly aristocrat (bass)
Donna Anna, his daughter (soprano)
Don Giovanni, a young aristocrat (baritone)
Leporello, his servant (bass)
Don Ottavio, engaged to Donna Anna (tenor)
Donna Elvira, a lady from Burgos (soprano)
Zerlina, a peasant girl (soprano)
Masetto, her intended (bass)
The setting is 17th century Seville. At night, Leporello waits in the garden of the Commendatore. His master is inside attempting to seduce, or perhaps rape, Anna. Giovanni comes out, still masked, and pursued by the lady, and the noise rouses her father, who challenges Giovanni and is killed. Anna and Ottavio swear vengeance. Leporello and Giovanni are interrupted by the arrival of Elvira, who has crossed Spain in pursuit of her seducer. She later rescues a newly married Zerlina from a similar fate by explaining Giovanni’s character. At last Anna recognizes Giovanni as her attacker, and when he hosts a wedding party for the peasantry she, Elvira and Ottavio denounce him, but he escapes again.
After a further attempted seduction, this time of Elvira’s maid, Giovanni finds himself with Leporello in the cemetery where the Commendatore has been buried. His statue makes its presence felt, terrifying Leporello, but Giovanni invites it to join him at supper. Giovanni is next seen dining alone, served by Leporello, and rejecting Elvira for a final time. She and Leporello are terrified by the sight of the statue of the Commendatore, arriving to accept the supper invitation. Giovanni, defiant to the last, is dragged down to hell. The surviving characters assure us that all bad people end up that way.