In Tony Hall’s words ‘It was the Sun wot got you here’ a prophetic start to the Royal Opera’s 08/09 Season as the auditorium was full of opera virgins who had applied for tickets through the soaraway Sun. Due to the generosity of the Helen Hamlyn Trust, top tickets were a snip at £30 – but will these Sun readers return when they have to fork out £180 for a ticket?
It’s unlikely, but if this performance of Don Giovanni really was your first time at the opera then you were lucky but, and this is a big but, it remains unclear whether an audience unfamiliar with the idiom would actually recognise that this was probably as good as it gets, vocally at least, as far as this opera is concerned.
Apart from a couple of serial boiled sweet abusers positioned a few rows behind me in the Balcony, the audience was attentive, laughed in all the right places, clapped in a couple of wrong ones and were genuinely enthusiastic at the final curtain and rightly so as here was a performance of this opera to cherish. The vocal honours went to Joyce DiDonato’s first-ever Elvira. Although a mezzo she tackled the high-lying tessitura of the role fearlessly and polished off the difficulties of ‘Mi tradi’ without turning a hair. Dramatically she was spot on and although she mentioned in a recent interview that there wasn’t a huge amount of rehearsal time for this revival it didn’t show.
Marina Poplavskaya returned as Donna Anna, funnily enough making a better impression than she had in the last revival despite an announced sinus infection. She sounded a little out of sorts in the high lying passages of ‘Non mi dir’ but her middle-register seemed to have acquired a sultry, smoky timbre. Miah Persson confirmed her Mozart credentials with a sumptuously-toned Zerlina and was ably partnered by a strongly-voiced Robert Gleadow as Masetto. Ramon Vargas was a virile sounding Don Ottavio whilst Eric Halfvarson boomed more effectively than any other Commendatore I’ve encountered in the theatre.
Returning as Don Giovanni and his servant Leporello, Simon Keenlyside and Kyle Ketelsen came close to stealing the show. Keenlyside’s baritone is becoming darker and his demonic moments had plenty of bite, yet he was more than capable of seducing the sternest heart with a beautifully judged, limpid rendition of ‘Deh, vieni alla finestra’. The rapport between him and Ketelsen, on fine form, was palpable and proved to be the lynchpin of the performance. In the pit Sir Charles Mackerras proved yet again that he is a peerless Mozartian, eliciting wonderfully alert, crisp playing from the orchestra.