Friday, 9 July 2010

Glyndebourne Don Giovanni - amazing !

HERE is the full review as promised. More detailed, more coherent.  :Below, first impressions

Just as the performance of Don Giovanni is about to begin, the lights at Glyndebourne black out - sudden danger! And then from the darkness emerged light, spotlighting the orchestra and conductor Vladimir Jurowski. It focuses the mind on the music, which is as it should be, but it's also great theatre - all is not what it seems at first in this brilliant production by Jonathan Kent, which truly captures the spirit of the opera.

Out of the shadows, you can just make out a gigantic rotating cube. It opens a crack, revealing a narrow alleyway from which there is no escape. Which is why Don Giovanni kills the Commendatore. Killing isn't usually his style, but when he's trapped like a rat, he lashes out at anyone in his way. Immediately he's revealed as selfish, cowardly, dangerous.

This set is a work of art in itself. It reinforces the opera, expanding meaning in support of the cast and orchestra. It's a wonder. Paul Brown, the designer, deserves huge respect. The technology that went into this would have been formidable. There's so much detail, yet everything works effortlessly. You couldn't get such flexibility (or such silent changes) with conventional sets. This  design allows almost cinematic changes of pace and focus. Because it moves so well, and is so inventive, there's no chance of it overpowering the action (like the machine in Salome) But the main thing is that it frees the action from technical limitations. It allows the drama to unfold, rapid-fire and free.

Vladimir Jurowski was inspired. Demonic energy! The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment sizzled, putting paid forever to the idea that historically-informed performance can't equal conventional orchestration. Indeed, because it was a period orchestra, textures were more flexible, lighter, more vivid, again supporting the pace of the drama. In the ballroom scene, the idea of several orchestras playing at the same time was clearly defined, so the effect was unsettling. But that's as it should be in this game of illusion.

Excellent flow between ensemble and soloists, who were superb. It really makes a difference when the lutenist sounds truly seductive, and the harpsichord's spiky interjections signal danger. Magnificent as the set is, this will also be a Don Giovanni to listen to, for the orchestra. My friend and I were truly lucky to sit (circle, middle, front) where we could see Jurowski and the OAE clearly. Orchestras are beautiful, visually (unless you're sitting among them). In this Don Giovanni, watching the orchestra added a  deeper dimension. The whole plot revolves on deception : watching the orchestra reminds us that theatre is illusion, too.

With an orchestra as good as this, and such an imaginative, supportive set, the cast have things relatively easy.  Gerald Finley's smooth, a little too laidback perhaps, vocally, but Don Giovanni seducesby his charm.   Why is Don Giovanni a compulsive seducer who cares more for quantity than quality ? A big advantage of having Finley sing the role is that he normally projects a much more relaxed image. Here he's disguised in white jacket, snazzy shades and moves his hips like a snake, It screams "Sleazeball!". But with Finley, you know it's an act, a carefully planned image.

Finley's champagne aria Fin ch'han dal vino didn't fizzle but perhaps that's a hint that Don Giovanni's pursuit of pleasure is ultimately hollow. In the second act, Finley's voice hardens lethally, with a darker edge. Is Don Giovanni demented? No-one normal invites the dead to dinner. Even as jest, it's desperation.

But the operas isn't Don Giovanni's alone. Luca Pisaroni's Leporello made the dynamic between master and servant powerfully pungent. At Glyndebourne, you sometimes can't tell patrons from waiters, they're all in the same uniform, which adds extra piquancy to Mozart's.subversion.

The interaction between Finley and Pisaroni is very carefully timed, superb blocking and vocal rapport. Pisaroni's Leporello is no put-upon fool, he pulls the strings. Very muscular, assertive singing, masterful. At the end, he takes a photo of his master's corpse. Does he, too, have a "stud book" of past conquests?

The friend who took me to Glyndebourne has heard Cesare Siepi, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and many others in this opera, so his views mean a lot. He doesn't judge singers in isolation as if they were lab specimens. Context matters, too. "These female singers are more like real women", he said, "not divas doing a role". It's a very generous comment, as Kate Royal's Donna Elvira is just too big for her, and Anna Samuil's Donna Anna, though good in general, won't go down in history. But given the performance history of this opera, the competition would overwhelm most anyone.

Anna Virovlansky’s Zerlina stood out, vocally firm and bright, physically vivacious and energetic. She's the female counterpart to Don Giovanni, She likes sex!  (Possibly more than he does.) There she is, up against the wall with DG, still in her wedding gown. Confronted by Masetto (Guido Loconsolo) she begs him to beat her. Virovlansky makes it sound wildly kinky, hinting at the darker aspects of Zerlina's personality.

In this amazing production, the first act ends with a conflagration. The ballroom goes up in real flames. It's dangerous, though you know Glyndebourne and their insurers have checked it out thoroughly. You can smell the sulphurous fumes. Wonderul theatre, but also true to the opera, for it refers to the hellfires that await  Don Giovanni (or from which he may have come).

In the second act, the net is rapidly closing in. The gigantic cube now transforms, shattering in wild diagonal planes. The angle of the main plane is so steep it looks dangerous. It should be. This is where the Commendatore is buried. A few quick changes and the dining table appears, gorgeously lit in gold. But all round it, the set's imploded, sharp angles, knife edges if you will .Violence implicit.

When Don Giovanni's trapped, he's most dangerous. Yet, Finley's snappy singing and jerky gestures indicate that defiance is Don G's way of masking tension. The  orchestra's screaming, the set screams silently, everyone knows something horrible's going to happen. And up pops the Commendatore (Brindley Sherratt, called in  earlier than planned).  He's not a speaking statue here, but a corpse rising from the grave, shroud rotting and hideous. He knocks over the dining table, revealing the flimsy construction beneath the luxury tablecloth. Again, marvellous theatre, and faithful to the spirit of the opera, because movement is so much part of it (and specially this performance). It's the ultimate dramatic entrance!  Slowly, the Commendatore turns to Don Giovanni and zaps him dead.  It's such a coup of theatre that the final chorus Questo è il fin becomes even more significant, bringing us back to semi-reality, so we don't emerge into Glyndebourne's garden too traumatized.

Photos and sound clips here on the Glyndebourne site.  This Don Giovanni has been filmed and will no doubt be issued on DVD. It's the BBC TV Xmas opera, too. Wonderful ! PLEASE NOTE,this is the full, final review :

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