Royal Opera, Covent Garden, London, 18, 20, 23, 28 February 2002
The first new production at Covent Garden this year, Francesca Zambello's
Don Giovanni has two casts - the first, theoretically the starry one, with
Bryn Terfel as the Don. This sounds appealing, but the live radio broadcast
was very disappointing. In contrast, the first night with the second cast
was a musical triumph, under the more than capable baton of Charles
Mackerras, though the production itself is flawed.
I had wondered whether Simon Keenlyside, recently seen in London as the
urbane and noble Prince Andrei in War and Peace, would be a little too
smooth as Giovanni - but no. He was a menacing figure, establishing from
his first appearance that beneath the fine clothes this was no gentleman, as
he killed the Commendatore in the most underhand fashion. However he cuts a
fine figure, and his silky voice (in terrific form, with his usual
crystal-clear diction) makes him a highly credible seducer.
He's also a
real action man, zipping up and down the staircase of the set and escaping
his accusers at the end of Act I by swarming up a rope. He's well matched
by Ildebrando D'Arcangelo as Leporello (soon to sing Don Giovanni in
Naples). Looking as rough as they come, he's a splendidly vivid character
with a rich voice that perfectly complements that of Simon Keenlyside, and
he's a fine actor too.
The other exceptional performance comes from Ana Maria Martinez as Donna
Elvira, making her Royal Opera debut. She's a petite, feisty figure who
arrives on stage spitting feathers and continues to delight throughout the
opera, with a gorgeous clear tone and thrilling delivery. Donna Anna is
Christine Goerke, less secure in her (admittedly fiendish) arias but
certainly a woman it doesn't pay to cross. Her Ottavio is John Mark
Ainsley, singing sweetly in this rather lacklustre role, and her father the
Commendatore is played solidly by Andrea Silvestrelli.
Zerlina is fun, played with great charm by another tiny singer, Natalie
Christie. Darren Jeffery stood in for an ill Quentin Hayes as Masetto, and
towered over Zerlina (and everyone else in the cast) - he is simply huge.
This made for a striking contrast between rustic, dim husband and svelte,
cunning would-be lover.
Well, I can't put off talking about the production any longer, I suppose.
It's not terrible, it just doesn't make too much sense, and the designs are
not what one would expect from an old pro like Maria Björnson. There is one
basic set, a curved wall which for most of the first act looks like a tiled
1970s toilet block sporting, for some unfathomable reason, a large Madonna.
When swivelled ninety degrees we see an internal staircase, which does
provide handy vantage points for various characters, and a narrow roofscape
over which Don Giovanni drapes himself to great effect.
The inside of the
curve provides an 18th Century interior for the masque, the first time that
any attempt has been made for the set to work alongside the stylised
traditional costumes. The last scene, always awaited with interest to see
how Giovanni is taken down into hell, was fun but very silly - now we seemed
to be in an ancient Roman villa, in which the hypocaust had become a dining
room. However the flames were spectacular and from the vantage point of a
box close to the stage, I can vouch for the heat they gave off.
direction too was rather undistinguished - nothing terrible, but little of
interest, and some rather inconsistent relationships between characters.
However, don't let that put you off. There are still a few performances
left and although it's pretty well sold out, it's well worth queuing for an
unusually well-matched and exciting cast.