Don Giovanni

7th Performance of Don Giovanni at Unter den Linden

* Notes *
The April performances of Don Giovanni at Staatsoper Unter den Linden began last night, conducted by Asher Fisch. There were a few times that the orchestra and singers were not quite together, but worse was all the banging coming from backstage. Doubtless this will improve over time, but it was not particularly impressive.

I think I may have heard Mariusz Kwiecien sing the title role a few too many times (I believe it was eight times in the last year), for I found René Pape a bit strange in the role, though he is one of my favorite singers. Pape lacks a certain unctuousness that Kwiecien absolutely embodies. Pape also sounded a slightly quiet, his Champagne aria was distracted, perhaps because of all the dancing happening behind him. However, his "Deh vieni alla finestra" was wonderful.

Much of the cast seemed quiet to me, Jeremy Ovenden was a muffled Don Ottavio and Arttu Kataja (Masetto) was all but inaudible. As Zerlina, Sylvia Schwartz's voice was perfectly bird-like and small, and showed a bit of strain at the beginning. She sang "Batti, batti, o bel Masetto" well. Anna Samuil was fairly good as Donna Anna, though she sounded a bit out of tune during "Or sai chi l'onore."

Hanno Müller-Brachmann was very funny as Leporello and he sang "Madamina, il catalogo è questo" especially nicely. Annette Dasch was the first Donna Elvira I have heard in the last year that did not have an exceedingly wide vibrato and was actually in tune.

Overall, I was slightly disappointed with the performance. There was one moment when everything came together in the finale of Act I, suddenly everything came into focus, at least musically, in the last 3 minutes. That quality was not sustained in Act II. I will save my various snide comments about the production for my more definitive review of this opera, next week, after a few more viewings.

* Tattling *
The British people next to me were utterly boggled by the cast of characters and could not figure out who was who. Needless to say, the production did not help them, and of course, they did not read German. It was almost cute, how they couldn't figure out if Donna Elvira was the blonde or who was engaged to Don Ottavio. To be fair, there seemed to be an error in the English synopsis. Personally, I thought it was quite obvious that Donna Elvira was the one with the impressive décolleté, but refrained from saying anything to them.

SF Opera's Cinemacasts Spring 2008

March 8-11 2008: La Rondine
March 29- April 1 2008: Samson et Dalila
April 12-15 2008: Don Giovanni 
April 19-22 2008: Madama Butterfly

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Press Release [PDF] | SF Opera at the Movies | Schedule

Arizona Opera's 2008-2009 Season

October 11-19 2008: Rigoletto
November 15-23 2008:
The Mikado
January 17-25 2009: L'Elisir d'Amore
February 21- March 1 2009: Don Giovanni
March 26- April 5 2009: Tosca

Stephanie Blythe sings in The Mikado and Twyla Robinson sings Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni.

2008-2009 Season Site | Official Site

7th Performance of Don Giovanni at SF Opera

Dgskulls* Tattling *
Yesterday's performance was sold-out, so standing room was ridiculously full, at least for Act I. I got my ticket at 1:30pm and received ticket number 106. There was no late-seating up in the balcony, so there were tons of disgruntled latecomers who could not see the stage or the OperaVision screens because of all the standees. It might have been better if they were watching a screen in the lobby or some such. The area was rather warm, as there were at least 100 standing people crowded around trying to see the performance. During the quartet "Non ti fidar, o misera," a young woman fainted from the temperature. She was unconscious for a few minutes, poor thing. The people around her found help and I believe she was taken to the infirmary.

Il Dissoluto Punito

* Notes *
In the past week I have seen Don Giovanni twice more, in the first row and in a box. From Row A on the orchestra level, the parts that are offstage are much more noticeable, it is obvious that the sounds are coming from the speakers when they are. It was also much easier not to laugh at the Death Chicken and the Zombie Commendatore, the close proximity shocked me into silence. From the boxes I learnt that the Minuet in the ballroom scene of Act I is played by the musicians in the pit, the Contradanse by musicians in Box A, and the Teutsche is played by those in Box Z.

During both performances I noticed that Twyla Robinson was consistently off key, that Masetto and Zerlina's marriage procession with sounded very much like a race between singers and orchestra, and the set up for the final scene is too noisy as Non mi dir is being sung.

* Tattling *
People are well-behaved when they are right by the orchestra. There was lots of whispering in Box X, especially from those in seats 4 and 5, but the actual words were not discernible. The person in seat 3 snored a bit, somehow this was more endearing than annoying. The cameramen in Box Z were not in place at the beginning of the overture and they talked a little bit during the music.

Don Giovanni and OperaVision

Survey* Notes *
For the second performance of Don Giovanni, I thought I would check out the new OperaVision screens in the balcony. The two screens are retractable, and the images are not fixed, so that at first we were seeing the conductor and orchestra members and later we saw both close-ups of singers and full-stage views. Most importantly, everyone in the balcony was also able to see the Death Chicken in Act II Scene 13.

The performance itself seemed to run more smoothly than opening night, as is typically the case. The long dining table actually sank so that it was flush with the floor this time, instead of getting stuck in the middle with a large clatter. Elza van den Heever sounded more comfortable as Donna Anna, but her acting was lacking, and this was evident in the close-ups on the OperaVision screens. The timing between music and singers was still off a bit. This time around I noticed that Don Giovanni is just so boorish as he throws food at Donna Elvira in that last scene of Act II, he also pushes her around quite violently.

* Tattling *
The sound is better in the balcony, but the patrons tend to be noisier. A girl in L 116 spoke into her companion's shoulder for some reason during the first scene of the opera, saying that it was "funny." Please note that this when Donna Anna was trying to fend off Don Giovanni, not the most pleasant scene. The women in L 120-122 were quiet for most the opera but could not contain themselves in the finale, they were concerned about getting out of the opera house.

Before the opera I was chatted up by another standee, he is apparently running for mayor of San Francisco, was a supernumerary in Carmen, and will be a supernumerary in the upcoming Tannhäuser. These seemed like outlandish claims, but the Tattler has verified at least the first one.

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?

Don Giovanni Panel Discussion

The stage director of the upcoming Don Giovanni at San Francisco Opera, Leah Hausman, moderated a panel discussion yesterday evening. The panelists included Twyla Robinson (Donna Elvira), Oren Gradus (Leporello), and Luca Pisaroni (Masetto). Though the discussion was somewhat disorganized, the panelists were all quite charming. We learnt that between the three singers they had been in over 20 productions of this opera, that European opera houses are small, and that all opera companies are different.

There were details revealed about the production, which is five years old and has been seen in Belgium, Japan, Luxembourg, and France. The stage is quite raked, the choreography is treacherous, and the lighting is dark. Apparently, the performances will be projected in the balcony so that the singers' faces are visible from there. They are calling this "OperaVision." We are living in the future, friends.

Alternate Cast of Don Giovanni at Seattle Opera

Morgansmith* Notes *
The alternate cast of Seattle Opera's current Don Giovanni production is well worth seeing. Their final performance is this Friday, but they also sang on January 14th and 21st. Morgan Smith had a very different characterization of the title role than Mariusz Kwiecien. Smith seemed less dangerous and more athletic. His voice is light, and his timing was off at times. Franzita Whelan (Donna Anna) was a bit quiet and shrill. Dana Beth Miller was the perfect scorned woman as Donna Elvira, her voice had good volume. Patrick Miller (Don Ottavio) had some creaky high notes. Brian Kontes (Leporello) had good diction, but something of a gritty quality to his voice. Overall, this cast seemed more engaged with one another, and was more consistent.

* Tattling *
The audience was much more subdued at the Sunday matinee after the opening. I had been expecting a kerfuffle since Seattle's team was in an NFL playoff game that day. Thankfully, the game was lost before the opera began, so audience members were not tempted to look up the scores on their mobile devices during the performance.

This time, again, the person with the seat adjacent to my standing place had her coat over the railing, but she moved graciously moved it without being asked and without any fuss. However, an usher did aggress my companion during the overture, handing her a program for no apparent reason and speaking during the music.

During Act II, a child, sitting in the lap of a woman, kept asking what was being sung. They were in the back of the middle of the orchestra, and apparently she was too young to read.

Opening of Don Giovanni at Seattle Opera


* Notes *
Chris Alexander's new production of Don Giovanni premiered last Saturday at Seattle Opera. The set, designed by Robert A. Dahlstrom, was rather flat and limiting. Basically, it consisted of a large wall with many partitions, which did make the scene changes seamless, but was rather domineering and monolithic. Marie-Therese Cramer's costumes were a mix of contemporary and Rococo. The choreography was similarly confused, cast members would randomly put themselves into doorways or oddly bobble to a minuet.

The most painful and hilarious moment of the performance was when Don Giovanni descends into Hell. For one thing, it is obvious just where this will take place, as this part of the stage is lowered to be a pool in Scenes IV and V of Act I. In Scene V, Act II, the Commendatore inexplicably enters Giovanni's house by a gigantic crack in the aforementioned monolithic wall. Then he proceeds to the table that has been artfully raised from the ground at the beginning of the scene and casts down his admonitions. Clearly, vengeful statue ghosts wish to cast down their admonitions from tabletops! When Don Giovanni takes the Commendatore's hand, he must also jump atop the table, which is slowly sinking. Instead of plunging all the way to Hell in one go, Don Giovanni flings himself away and has to slither around the floor for a good long time before he finally makes his way back, then the lighting changes and a huge white sheet descends to cover the wall. Naturally the sheet does manage to get caught on one of the chairs.

Mariusz Kwiecien was the strongest singer, and being in the title role, this did cause an imbalance for the production as a whole. His acting was also good, he was an unctuous fop. Pamela Armstrong showed potential as Donna Anna, though she lacked control. Her high notes had too much vibrato, which lead to being off key. She was also rather loud. Though her voice needs to be reined in, it is warm and resonant. Marie Plette sang Donna Elvira as if she were a Puccini heroine. Richard Croft's Don Ottavio was simpering, he did have good volume, though he did seem strained at times. Eduardo Chama was a mocking and very funny Leporello. He has a pretty voice, but his diction was sloppy. Ailish Tynan (Zerlina) has a girlish sweet voice, but looked absurd in short skirts with her skinny legs. Kevin Burdette (Masetto) started off too fast, but his acting had a strong physicality and he was convincing in his role.

* Tattling *
This was definitely the most badly-behaved audience I have observed at Seattle Opera, even worse than the Sunday matinee Die Fledermaus I attended last year that convinced me to not subscribe again. The evening started off badly, when I got to my standing room place, the person in the adjacent seat had placed her coat over my spot. My companion asked her to move it, and it was only grudgingly done. The person in question must have not enjoyed the opera, for she left after the intermission.

There was a noisy altercation between some people in the center section of the orchestra level during the overture. There were two rounds of hushing before this settled down. Profanities and invectives were employed.

All of the couples in front of us spoke during the performance, but the people on Aisle F Row BB Seats 1 and 2 were loudest. Among the erudite comments were "He's the guy!" when Masetto appeared onstage, "Nice control!" after one of Donna Anna's arias, and "That was Modigliani" in response to the many female nudes flashed upon a screen during "Fin Ch'han Dal Vino."

A watch alarm went off during Act II, and it beeped at least 8 times before silenced. This was followed by an angry but whispered argument between two men on the right side of the orchestra level. Another man decided he could no longer take Donna Anna, and left in the middle of her aria, despite his being in the middle of the row. About half a dozen people had to stand up to let him leave, and one of them had a bit of trouble and toppled over.

Nulla mai temer mi fa.

BsogiovanniThe Bayeriche Staatsoper's production of Don Giovanni had excellent singers but a disappointing staging. Thus far, all the productions of Mozart operas there have been fairly ugly visually, although the production teams have all been different.

Ivor Bolton's conducting was not impressive, the orchestra was not exactly together during the overture, and the singers and the orchestra seemed off from each other from time to time. Perhaps there was no souffleur? I did not see one, but the stage was raked, so maybe the singers were to follow the conductor. During Act I, Scene 20, when Don Giovanni has a ball in order to seduce Zerlina, there were masked musicians onstage in three separate groups. This produced some unintentional dissonance, more a fault of the staging than the conductor.

Nicholas Hytner's staging and Bob Crowley's sets were somewhat baffling. The stage was raked, not steeply, with walls left and right, which had various compartments that would open to be windows or chambers. There were two scrims, one normal and one near the middle which was in two pieces cut diagonally that came together in the middle. These scrims, which I suppose are not technically scrims since they weren't translucent (they were opaque red) served to make the scene changes flawless. The whole stage was red, perhaps the scrims were like valves, and it was meant to be some abstruse symbol of the human heart. This would not explain the huge golden statues of hands, one appearing in Act I Scene 16 when Zerlina sings "Batti, batti, o bel Masetto" and the other in the aforementioned ball scene. We never return to this image in Act II, rendering whatever impact it was to have rather toothless.

The other major motif was the rood. Four little spirits all in white held crosses and would appear here and there, they were particularly disorienting when they surrounded the Commendatore's body.

What was most annoying was the finale, they had Don Giovanni gone entirely mad, hair a mess and barefoot, stumbling and drunk, eating his dinner with his hands on the floor. If he is out of his mind, how is his punishment just? Also, having him costumed so almost made him look Christ-like, hair down, in a plain white shirt, and wrapped in a red blanket. This image, though beautiful, makes no sense.

I must say though, they did a wonderful job with the statue of the Commendatore, the costume was very good and the scene in the graveyard was marvelous. The Commendatore's grave was his likeness on a horse, and this was surprisingly convincing.

Act II, Scene 15, when the statue comes to dinner was fairly effective. The Commendatore on foot was followed by the Grim Reaper astride a white horse. This could have easily been kitsch, but it worked very well.

The costumes, also by Bob Crowley, were all in strong colors, mostly black and red, except for statues and spirits. They were typical Rococo, though the principal sopranos all had flame-shaped, zigzagged borders in contrasting fabric at their hems. Masetto's dark green and black costume was particularly reminiscent of Frans Hals.

As for the singing, it was exceptional. Sopranos Brigitt Hahn and Aga Mikolaj were fine as Donnas Anna and Elvira, respectively. They both had passionate, fiery voices, and I have never heard two sopranos that sounded better together. Julia Rempe was much better as Zerlina than as Blonde in Entführung. Her voice is not full, it has something of an ugly edge, but she sang much better in this, one could actually hear her most of the time, and her intonation was better, perhaps since she didn't have to get that high A all the time as Zerlina. Her voice was definitely distinct from the other two sopranos, which isn't a bad thing.

Robert Saccà is a solid tenor, his voice was good for Don Ottavio, as it was for Belmonte in Entführung. Bass Maurizio Muraro has a strong voice, good diction, and acting ability to boot. Bass Taras Konoshchenko did not strike me one way or another, he could project better than Rempe. Bass Franz-Josef Selig, on the other hand, was distinctively good as the Commendatore, suitably stately and terrifying.

Bo Skovhus was incredible in the title role. Not only does he cut a dashing figure as the unrepentant rake, his voice is simply charming, light, and very suitable for the part. I remember him being similarly good as Count Almaviva in Le Nozze at SFO in 1997.

On a completely personal note, and I commend the reader for getting this far, I left my shawl in the opera house, couldn't find it and was told to wait at the stage entrance for someone to bring it down. This is where all the die-hard opera coots are, waiting for the performers to come out. It was utterly bizarre to see the singers offstage in street clothes, shaking people's hands and autographing programs. I was too bashful to say anything, I just stood there wide-eyed and blushing, no doubt.

Also, the Balkon (balcony) part of the audience appears to be quieter than the the Ränge (the 3 tiers above the balcony level) or the Parkett (floor).