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Opera

Magnificent Mozart

The subtitle of Mozart’s Don Giovanni is ‘Il dissoluto punito’ (the rake punished), that of Rossini’s La Cenerentola is ‘La bontà in trionfo’ (goodness triumphant), while Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea might well be subtitled ‘Vice rewarded’.

4 December 2010

12:00 AM

4 December 2010

12:00 AM

The subtitle of Mozart’s Don Giovanni is ‘Il dissoluto punito’ (the rake punished), that of Rossini’s La Cenerentola is ‘La bontà in trionfo’ (goodness triumphant), while Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea might well be subtitled ‘Vice rewarded’.

The subtitle of Mozart’s Don Giovanni is ‘Il dissoluto punito’ (the rake punished), that of Rossini’s La Cenerentola is ‘La bontà in trionfo’ (goodness triumphant), while Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea might well be subtitled ‘Vice rewarded’. They are the three operas that Glyndebourne is taking round the country this year, whether with moralistic intent I don’t know.

Large school parties attend these performances, and are extraordinarily well behaved in my experience; if they have any developed aesthetic judgment they would see that Monteverdi’s shocking opera, in which two vicious characters begin happily, and get ever happier as they dispose of such human obstacles as wife, teacher, fiancé, ending with Poppea’s becoming Empress and singing one of the most moving of all love duets, is far more convincing than the other two, where dei ex machina have to be recruited to balance the moral books. Most unfortunately, I was unable to be depraved by Monteverdi, called away by other operatic duties; but in Norwich I saw magnificent accounts of the other two, though whether I — or any of their spectators, ever — was morally improved by them is doubtful.


When I saw Jonathan Kent’s new production of Don Giovanni last summer in Glyndebourne, everything was wrong with it. On tour, thanks to a different conductor and cast, and to Ashley Dean’s extensively revised production, it has a wholly different feel about it. The gigantic revolving cube seems less oppressive than it did, but also less busy; there are far fewer sideshows, and the grotesque coup de théâtre of a thunderbolt demolishing most of the set at the end of Act I is removed. Now there are just lots of sheets of flame past, or through, which Don Giovanni makes his problematic escape.

Audun Iversen makes a very plausible Don. To us he is loathsome, a recent graduate of the Bullingdon Club, with the arrogance and confidence that his victims must have found attractive, and with a caressing, warm voice. His relationship with Leporello is even more brutal than usual, but thanks to Iversen and the slithery Robert Gleadow convincing. There is not a weak link among the singers, but the star is the Donna Anna of Natasha Jouhl, who produces quantities of tone that are both warm and gleaming, so she can plausibly encompass both her vengeance aria in Act I and her would-be consolatory trails of coloratura in Act II. Any Don Ottavio would pale beside her, but Emanuele D’Aguanno, deprived of ‘il mio tesoro’, does seem unduly wimpish.

Donna Elvira is the most sympathetic, and pathetic, character in the opera, and Nicole Heaston brought out everything about her that makes her so poignant, though her getting through a cigarette in a cool way during the trio in Act II wasn’t a happy stroke. Zerlina, who completes the conspectus of womanhood in the opera, needs to be a more substantial figure than she is usually allowed to be: she may be a comic character because she is lower class, but she has plenty of spirit, and in her two arias she presents a norm of tenderness and desire which place her as the plausible antithesis to the Don, and quite a close relation of Susanna in Figaro. Eliana Pretorian looked and sounded the part, and fortunately her swain Masetto, sung by the unusually rich-toned Callum Thorpe, was a worthy recipient of all her endearments.

Since the action of Don Giovanni takes place within 24 hours, the erection of a statue of the Commendatore, together with a telling inscription, does seem unlikely, so having his decomposing corpse in the graveyard, as well as in the supper scene, is more plausible as well as more horrible, though it makes nonsense of the text. In-Sung Sim boomed effectively, but his appearance was much more alarming than his voice. All told, it was the most unnerving supper scene I’ve witnessed, indeed frightening. And Jakub Hrusa paced it all well, with the excellent Glyndebourne on Tour orchestra, though I could have done with more sheer volume than they were able to summon, or perhaps than he wanted them to.

The next evening La Cenerentola was just as successful. This is Peter Hall’s production, serious and even grim, with an impoverished Magnifico and daughters, which explains without justifying their spiteful and grasping behaviour. Again a cast in which everyone was good, though Cinderella herself, the sumptuous-voiced Allyson McHardy, shone. Right from her opening gesture of slamming down the milk jug to irritate her sisters, she made clear that there was a strict limit to how much she would put up with from them, and her vocal displays alone were enough to intimidate them. The ghastly father of Jonathan Veira is a rich study in smelly depravity, while the two sisters are the more effective for being quite attractive. This is a production which shows a crueller, less illusioned Rossini than usual, but also one that is closer to the truth, I think, and amiably misanthropic.


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