December 6, 2016 4 Comments
Reporting from the white-shirt flat on 6th floor in the 11th arrondissement in Paris, with Dehggi writing from the other bed. After an excursion to chinatown to my favorite Vietnamese food joint*** and getting stuck in the touristic pre-Noël’s madness near the Ferris wheel, we barely made it to Théâtre des Champs Elysées 4 minutes before lights out. Upon running upstairs huffing and puffing, the usher, to our delight and MUCH more relaxed than the stiff-neck counterpart at the Wiener Staatsoper, were all smiling and telling us we still had time.
I actually don’t know Don Giovanni well at all! and have only recently (as in starting this past May) listening to it, after discovering Myrtò Papatanasiu and sorting out the difference between Donna Elvira and Donna Anna.. Since then I have listened to primarily two live performances to get things started: one for the very intriguing staging from Amsterdam with Papatanasiu as Donna Anna and one with the exceptional singing from the entire cast and of Antonacci as Donna Elvira in the Wien 1999 production. So this “review” will be heavily based on these two roles, and a little bit on Zerlina, whose music I discovered via Kasarova’s existing radio broadcasts. Our seats were up on the 3rd balcony directly above the orchestra for optimal view into the pit and sound from the singers (?). The first impression was the massive sound coming up during the overture and well into the first part of the singing. For me the whole show didn’t settle musically until the scene of in the morgue with Donna Anna in (goooooorgeous) suit recognizing DonG as her father killer and recounting the faithful night
“Non dubitate più: gli ultimi accenti che l’empio proferì tutta la voce richiamar nel cor mio di quell’indegno che nel mio appartamento…”
If I wasn’t a fan of Papatanasiu’s singing before, I would have become one last night. I’m extremely prone to detailed recitative phrasing (and low notes), and to my ears she was *the* star last night in phrasing, starting from every recit. She was already phrasing when on the floor clutching to DonnaA’s father’s dead body, but at that time the orchestra was way too loud and not leaving her space to express. During this passage, however, it was exquisite to hear: Each single sentence was expressed with full dynamics. I really think she was the only one using a full range of soft to loud and shaping/sculpting each sentence to draw us in, regardless of whether we understand Italian (or french surtitle) or not. The voice, again hearing live, this time from way above, I have to say it clicks with my ears very well: quite voluminous and distinctive from everyone else on stage such that it provides very nice contrast in trio/duet or solo (to not so loud orchestration). I would not categorize her voice as “beautiful”, and that’s not what I look for. Rather it’s the texture that works with vocal expression. Her voice, however, seems to not click well for Dehggi’s ears, but that is all good, each of us hear different things🙂. Her “Non mi dir” was a show-stopper for me. Not in a “fancy” over decorated way, but in a time-stopping hold-your-breath while transitioning along in time with Donna Anna’s thought and pain. As I said, if I was not a fan before, definitely would become one last night. Also, whoever put her in a suit, that is simply BRILIANT! We’ll discuss how it fits in the staging in a bit.. but JA! (Also, since sitting there, with the orchestra fully visible, i did wish for a time-reversal machine back to February with Emmanuelle Haïm in the pit and Sifare and Aspasia on stage..)
Just an example then, on exactly what I hear when it comes to phrasing of recitative. This is purely a 2 minute passage, but through it, you feel every little note, pain, anguish, defiance in Donna Elvira. I think when recitative are not done in this way, it is “rushed” through and you will simply hear it being “said”, prior to the singer launching or easing into the main aria. By then, one would need to try to sort through what the aria is about, in addition to the musical lines. That is also a summary of what I heard from Donna Elvira last night, that it was singing, though Dehggi said she was very good. The other bit of music i GREATLY enjoyed was the orchestration to “Batti, batti, o bel Masetto”. Absolutely gorgeous flute and cello lines! And the finale trio “Don Giovanni! a cenar teco m’invitasti, e son venuto…” with moments when ALL woodwinds and brass (and all strings) were playing, quite goose-bump inducing.
On the subject of the orchestra, it started very loud to our ears. I was quite worried because throughout the first part, Donna Anna’s voice was quite masked out, DonG and Leporello were singing very loud, and Donna Elvira, with a quite large voice, was the only one making it above the orchestra to our ears unscathed. It was a huge relief for me when suddenly the orchestra quiet down as Leporello started “Madamina, il catalogo è questo”, and completely was cleared out for Donna Anna’s phrasing. Al told us that the orchestra is entirely composed of baroque instruments (the woodwinds and brass we could see, but violins we were not sure until being informed). This the the largest orchestra I have seen of my 3 times here (2x Tancredi, then N.Stutzmann’s own orchestra). I can’t remember if they were using baroque bows in 2014 because at that time i thought the orchestra was great with fine details. Last night they were using modern bows, which we assume because they needed a more robust sound for Don Giovanni ? In any case, it was blasting at the start and took a bit of time to let the singers express freely.
Some quick notes on the staging. The opening scene already featured 2 young women in very short skirts draping themselves over DonG and Leporello. As the stage rotated, we were first provided a visual of Donna Anna expressing pleasure while receiving oral treatment from DonG. She then “woke” up and being coerced by him in various poses on the bed… This theme continues with Donna Elvira touching self in bed to “Ah! chi mi dice mai” . Leporello then revealed a doll puppet to which he undressed and fantasizing over. This continued onto the next Masetto & Zerlina wedding scene with full draping of the female chorus in wedding gown on their male counterparts. Yes, the opera is disturbing. On top of it, I think much of the staging is feasting on it to provide eye-candies and further treat female bodies as fantasizing tools being put on display. Perhaps that’s why the whole show also didn’t settle for me until Donna Anna appeared in a black (very fine) suit! It’s an unusual move, and actually put into perspective the independence of Donna Anna’s. Al also mentioned it captures her entrapment in formality (or something like that, I did not get this point though and would love to hear more). What I do like is that she is often discussing and keeping herself balanced, and Don Ottavio is often seen as the one approaching her space and constantly wanting to keep the pair “appearance”. I’m still trying to understand Donna Elvira’s mindset. We first saw her fantasizing on bed, while often I had the vision of Cecilia Bartoli’s fist clenching and seething approach. Either is fine I think as long as we could see how she evolves.. in this case I can not quite tell anything about her. She is seen smoking through the windows while DonG is scheming and switching with Leporello during “Deh, vieni alla finestra” (the mandolin is sooooo cute!!!), then proceeded to sleep with DonG double without even knowing so.. She can been seen defiant at times, such as during the trio with DonnaA and DonO, or when pointing fingers at Leporello after “Mi tradì, quell’alma ingrata” , or when she arrived to snatch Zerlina away from DonG, or intruding into his conversation with DonnaA+DonO (which led to the trio). Surprisingly her duet with DonnaA at the end was omitted! But all in all, I am not sure what personality or resolve she has, and whether she’s simply running after DonG for the flesh. Even Leporello is a bit quick to switch, so he’s as much enjoying doing what DonG does when given the chance, given how quickly he embodied the seducer’s move without any hint of conflict/struggle. I really enjoyed Zerlina’s last aria, something neither Dehggi nor I have ever heard before! She was in a scene with only Leporello (and with a shaving knife), but her phrasing to start was just gorgeous. I did get her confused at that point with DonnaE simply because of the context (even though their voices are quite different). DonO is really seen as a needy guy constantly trying to close the space between him and DonnaA. Finally, the Commendatore, I’m sorry, but we really need a bass! His clear “high” notes in the final showdown “Don Giovanni” was floating ABOVE the orchestra! (while i was expecting it to line the base and providing rumble). His thin voice was completely masked out when the orchestra went full strength during the final passage, so the famous duet/trio because a solo with DonG singing to the orchestra prior to being pushed into the furnace.
Staging-wise, aside from all the eye-candies and not quite developed characters above, I really like the usage of the stage space, to narrow things, efficiently shifts between scenes, and the use of the morgue bed. To me Papatanasiu’s singing (and subtle body balance) stood out because she gave a layer to DonnaA’s character. We had glimpses into her mindset, her struggle with her father’s loss, and perhaps what appeared to be her independence. She made decision on her own, using her own head, and body angles / postures / gestures. Interestingly Al made a note that her body gestures are quite similar to Anja Harteros’! Which got me thinking when i first saw her coming up on the grass field in Alcina half of the time i had the image of Harteros’ in head!
So that’s a wrap up, in extreme rambling fashion, of an opera I don’t know much about, but highlighting what draws my attention the most. Here’s the curtain call of the opening night, and more chance to see that fine fine suit! Off to Antonacci we go for my last night here!