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Opening of Don Giovanni

Dongiovannibrussels_2* Notes *
Don Giovanni opened the summer half of the 2006-2007 season in San Francisco last Saturday. The co-production with Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie premiered in 2003, and has been also been performed at the Grand Théâtre de la ville de Luxembourg and Opéra de Lille. David McVicar's production was designed by John Macfarlane and directed by Leah Hausman. The staging was rather dark, from the black raked stage to most of the costuming. Jennifer Tipton's lighting was not as minimal as we had been lead to believe, as one could recognize the faces of the singers from the back of the orchestra section without much effort. The choreography was demanding, at times there were a great many dancers on stage along with the singers. For the ball scene in Act I, the singers held their own and looked very good among the dancers. Some of the choreography was overwrought, especially at the end of Act I, when Donna Elvira, Don Ottavio and Donna Anna unmask. A few of the dancers were flailing in the background at this point. The acting was strong and the characterizations energetic. This is the only production I have seen in which Don Ottavio is not completely boring. He has a tendency to fade into the background or to be utterly insipid, yet here it was not the case. However, overall, the production tends towards humorlessness, especially at the end with the descent of Don Giovanni into Hell. The enormous death chicken wielding a sword was hilarious, but probably unintentionally so.

Musically the performance was a bit shaky. The orchestra and singers were not always quite together, I noticed this especially with two of the basses, Oren Gradus and Luca Pisaroni. Both sang very beautifully, but were a bit ahead of the music a few times. Mezzo-soprano Claudia Mahnke was much better suited for Zerlina than Cherubino, which she sang last summer here. Her voice is breathy, but not unpleasant. Charles Castronovo played and sang Don Ottavio well, though when he was singing with others, one can hear that his voice is slightly underpowered. Former Adler Twyla Robinson was a charming Donna Elvira, but vocally she was harsh and her intonation was imperfect, especially when she first took the stage. That said, she was sublime at certain points in Act II when her voice was warmed up and she was singing more quietly. Elza van den Heever did a commendable job of stepping into the role of Donna Anna at the last moment, she did sound hesitant at first, but sang well. Her voice is awfully cold and sounds a bit like it is stuck in her head somewhere, but her volume is adequate. Mariusz Kwiecien was excellent in the title role, but in this production he was not quite as domineering as he was in the Chris Alexander one at Seattle Opera earlier this year.

* Tattling *
The performance was sold-out several days in advance, but the standing room line was not as hectic as it can be. After coercing several young people to agree to attend this opera, the line situation was anticlimactic, we very easily got tickets 2-11. The box office opened a few minutes after 10, and the tickets were not yet printed, making the whole ordeal take longer than usual. Standing room itself was moderately full, and there was no late seating. The ushers spoke during the overture, and a man in seat ZZ 117 started unwrapping candies at that point as well. He left during the beginning of Act II with the 3 people he was with, it was unclear as to why. During the beginning Act II, a woman in standing room walked back and forth with a plastic shopping bag, until a man in standing room (not an usher) finally asked her to "Silence her bag." A baseball capped man in row ZZ (only for Act II) fell asleep in the middle of Act II.

During Act I, the photographer for Elza van den Heever was a bit loud, one could hear the clicking sounds as he worked pretty clearly. These performance photographs are usually taken during the final dress rehearsal, but in her case this was not possible. There was also an alarming amount of applause for Ms. van den Heever at every opportunity, for each aria and also at the end of the performance. If one was unaware about her minute replacement of Hope Briggs in the role of Donna Anna, it would have made no sense. It makes one curious, if Ms. Briggs was so unsuited for this role, should that not have been clear before the final dress rehearsal?