Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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A Letter to Three Giovannis -
Part 2, London

July 01, 2007

An Alice Cooper moment
Erwin Schrott as Don Giovanni and Reinhard Hagen as the Commendatore
Photo: Catherine Ashmore/ROH 2007

Tonight was the first show of this year’s European excursion, the Royal Opera’s revival of Don Giovanni which is now in its last few performances. Having just seen the revival of David McVicar’s Don Giovanni production for San Francisco Opera two weeks ago, it’s hard not to recognize the similarities. Francesca Zambello’s staging for ROH, which has a similar vintage to McVicar's, would seem to have all the mod cons: foreboding gloom? Check. Bare-chested muscular hotness? Check. Giant metallic flaming pointing finger of doom? Uh…check? Actually outside of this rather Monty Pythonesque touch at the finale, Zambello’s production suffers mostly from simply seeming too flat, with too little to look at, and too little for her cast to actually do besides stand there and sing. Even dramatic lighting can’t add much to this set which rests almost entirely on what seems like a tiny rotating curved wall unit that the cast occasionally lean against in moments of angst.

Of course it’s hard to keep a good man down, and this is one good man who has his role down pat and then some. Erwin Schrott has made Giovanni his specialty and his charisma and easy way with the audience show why he is one of the leading interpreters of the role. His tone is good and he physically inhabits the role even in its silliest moments. (I guess it is wise to dine bare-chested if one anticipates poring wine all over said chest. Also note that in this situation, burgundy is probably your color of choice.) At the same time he is funny and can maintain focus on his character despite some excellent performances going on right next to him from the rest of the cast – namely Ana María Martínez’ strong Donna Elvira and Anna Netrebko’s Donna Anna. Netrebko finally made it in to the middle of this run after earlier health problems kept her out of the opening earlier this month and she is well worth the wait. Mozart may not necessarily be her strongest suit, but let’s not split hairs shall we? I found Michael Schade’s Don Ottavio a bit thin for the proceedings over all, but Kyle Ketelsen’s Leporello was quite well received.

I certainly enjoyed the evening as a whole, but must admit that I never felt the whole thing gelled in a meaningful way. Ivor Bolton led the Royal Opera House Orchestra through an initially quite rough and unwieldy performance that really didn’t hit its stride until well into the evening. But maybe that’s understandable given everyone’s nerves in London this weekend. Hopefully this too will pick up as things go along.

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