Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Opera Note: Venetian Don Giovanni

Just a word about a performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni that we caught at La Fenice in Venice last night, and the word is: rehearsal. And I mean that in the good sense: this is a DG energetic, well-sung and (mostly) convincingly staged but it was also tightly morticed at the joints. As such it is a bracing reminder of so many major league performances you see these days, where the name star seems to have parachuted in just 20 minutes before the performance; one can only assume that he has his stage movements stenciled on the floor.

The singers were people we'd pretty much never heard of which was more testimony to our parochialism than to their skill. There was a lot of good vocal talent on display, together with some better-than-good acting. It was also a cast that knew how to work with ambiguity. Simone Alberghini's Don is a nasty piece of business who is doing it all more out of malicious amusement than for sensual pleasure. Still he has his moves, and the ladies do seem to be taken with him as they try to negotiate the treacherous void between seduction and rape. It sets you up nicely for Leonardo Cortellazzi's Don Ottavio--a skilled interpreter with a lovely voice who conveys the sad truth that he may be just a bit too nice to be interesting. It also made space for William CorrĂ²'s Musetta--the best job I've ever seen anybody do with this secondary role. He made you understand that he was basically a decent young man, not very sophisticated and a bit hot-headed, who didn't want anybody messin' with his woman.

And speaking of women--they were generally convincing although I must say this was a DG more Italian than Spanish, with plenty of effusion and more than a hint of Anna Magnini in the background. And during the "banquet" scene--here, more of an "orgy" scene--there really was more tit on display than I think I've ever seen in a major opera house before. I assume we were also getting a glimpse into the future of opera staging--not that that's a bad thing, of course. I'd save a rosette for Caterina Di Tonno as Musetta's beloved Zerlina, wide-eyed and bewildered but off on adventure not quite like anything she'd ever undergone before.

I'm not certain who deserves credit for bringing this all together so nicely but I suspect it may be Antonello Manacorda, who conducted. Whoever--he deserves credit for making a production that collected so many unforgettable numbers and wove them into a coherent whole.

This was also, as it happens, our first look at the "new" La Fenice, lately risen from the flames that kept it out of action for so many years. Or rather, the "new, old" La Fenice, insofar as it's clearly an attempt to recreate what some arsonist destroyed. Never having set foot in the old, I can't say exactly how successful they are, but I must say I do like these old European opera houses and here as elswhere, I am always surprised at how tiny they are.

Footnoe: Did I forget to mention the reserves of raw courage on display when they used real candles on stage in this monument to modern incendiarism? I assume this explains why the place was so think with Vigili di Fuoco.

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