On 27 June the Barbican’s stage made way for the heartthrob of opera, Don Giovanni. The performance was part of the Mostly Mozart festival sponsored by Classic fM to honour the composer’s 250th birthday. Don Giovanni was a pioneering work in the sense that it was one of the first operas to mix the genres of comedy and tragedy. Despite this courageous artistic endeavour, it was well received in Prague almost 250 years ago and its popularity hasn’t dwindled.
The promise of the Don’s appearance drew a packed audience to this semi-staged production where Mozart’s famous tale of excess and retribution was performed with rigour and a wonderful sense of comic style.
Conductor Evelino Pidò led the ensemble with understated finesse. His performance was genuine but controlled. There were no obtrusive or unnecessary body movements, which some conductors use to attempt contact with their charges, yet Pid remained inclusive. This allowed his performers to relax and mirror his carefree style. This was not at the expense of the music which was conducted with great musicality and an intelligence reserved for only the most informed of Mozart scholars.
The period-instrument orchestra Concert Köln gave the audience a fascinating glimpse into Mozart’s sound world. It has to be said that the opening statement wasn’t as striking as it is with an orchestra of modern instruments which produce a more invasive dynamic. The balance of the sound is also different due to the wooden woodwind instruments which are more subtle than modern ones. However, once the ear adjusts, the period instruments magnify Mozart’s genius. The cellos in the pastoral songs actually sound like bleating lambs and the thunderous demise of the Don is made even more terrifying than normal through the unrefined earthy sounds of the instruments.
Interestingly enough, the fact that this production was only semi-staged didn’t detract from the drama. Conversely, the swaying of the instrumentalists themselves looked like an eerily personified form of the flames which drag Don Giovanni down to hell.
The Chorus of Théâtre des Champs-Elysées had only a minor part, of course, and aside from a slightly uneven first entry by the sopranos, they sang well. Ildebrano D’Arcangelo filled in the title role for Dietrich Henschel who was unable to sing. D’Arcangelo was charismatic and funny with a beautiful tone. He kept the audience entertained whilst never allowing his character to attract sympathy.
The Commendatore role is difficult in the sense that the singer is detached from the action, yet still has to have a strong presence at the beginning and the end of the opera. Giovanni Battista Parodi, although perhaps a bit too young-looking for the role, had a strong and resonant voice. He didn’t come across stone-like enough in the final scenes. This is only a minor point however, as the addition of his wonderful voice into the already high quality mixture created a spine-chilling atmosphere.
It’s quite a feat to steel the show in a cast of fabulous performers but Lorenzo Regazzo managed to. His flawless singing combined with his wonderful tone and personable characterisation of Leporello.
The other two men in the cast were good, although they seemed less experienced. Alessandro Luongo sang a youthful and sweet Masetto and Francesco Meli an attentive Don Ottavio. Meli’s voice had an attractive tone and there were some impressive high notes. However, he was the only singer with whom technical flaws were more than apparent. Airspeed was erratic which caused faltering connections in melodic lines. The situation also seemed somewhat overwhelming for Meli whose acting didn’t appear natural between arias.
Meli did however, interpret the controversial character in an interesting way. Don Ottavio often causes debate due to the seemingly pathetic love-struck nature of his personality due to his complete adoration and loyalty to Donna Anna. However, his character can appear to be just as brave as Don Giovanni’s. This is sadly often overlooked, but not by Meli, who expressed himself with a Werther-like passion.
The three women in the cast all performed with dexterity and wit. Patrizia Ciofi and Alexandrina Pendatchanska singing the roles of Donna Anna and Donna Elvira respectively produced impressive sounds and were strong in their roles. Anna Bonitatibus as Zerlina sang and acted nicely, but at times her words didn’t come across due to slightly poor diction. She also had a tendency to be quieter than necessary, which caused parts of her singing not to resonate.
In all the evening was a resounding success. Mozart’s opera suited the semi-staged performance because the lacking scenery and costume was made up by a vivid libretto, lush music, clever use of the stage and wonderful performers.