Friday 28 October 2016

La Dolce Vita inspired Don Giovanni at Glyndebourne

Duncan Rock, Brandon Cedel - Don Giovanni - Glyndebourne on Tour - photo Tristram Kenton
Duncan Rock, Brandon Cedel - Don Giovanni - Glyndebourne on Tour - photo Tristram Kenton
Mozart Don Giovanni; Duncan Rock, Brandon Cedel, Ana Maria Labin, Magdalene Molendowska, Anthony Gregory, Louise Alder, Bozidar Smiljanic, Andrii Goniukov, dir: Jonathan Kent/Lloyd Wood, cond: Pablo Gonzalez; Glyndbourne on Tour at Glyndebourne Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 10 2016
Star rating: 4.5

Seduction and darkness from Glyndebourne's young cast in an engaging account of the rarely performed Vienna version

Magdalena Molendowska, Ana Maria Labin, Anthony Gregory - Glyndebourne on Tour - photo Tristram Kenton
Magdalena Molendowska, Ana Maria Labin, Anthony Gregory
Don Giovanni - Glyndebourne on Tour - photo Tristram Kenton
Duncan Rock was back as Don Giovanni in Glyndebourne on Tour's production of Don Giovanni at Glyndebourne on 27 October 2016. Rock had been ill for the previous performance and Jacques Imbrailo had jumped in at very short notice. Rock seemed to be in good vocal health, in Jonathan Kent's production (revived by Lloyd Wood, who was responsible for the production's 2014 main stage revival) with Brandon Cedel as Leporello, Ana Maria Labin as Donna Anna, Andrii Goniukov as Il Commendatore, Anthony Gregory as Don Ottavio, Magdalena Molendowska as Donna Elvira, Louise Alder as Zerlina and Bozidar Smiljanic as Masetto. Pablo Gonzalez conducted the Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra, with continuo from Ashok Gupta (forte piano) and Jonathan Tunnell (cello).

The opera was set roughly in the 1950s/early 1960s with Fellini's film La Dolce Vita as a visual reference (though intriguingly we kept seeing hints of references to other more recent films as well). Paul Brown's set was a box which opened origami-like to reveal a variety of configurations. When open, the inside of the box revealed a De Chirico-like city-scape, and the outside presented a huge renaissance portrait of a woman and a massive portal (evidently based on a palazzo in Ferrara). But with the constantly changing perspectives as the elements unfolded and rotated, gave a wide variety of views and rendered the city-scape often in highly surreal manner. The seems to have received varied reviews, both on the main stage and for this touring revival but we certainly enjoyed it.

The version used was Mozart's 1788 Vienna version, an edition of the opera rarely performed.
For Vienna, Mozart added Mi Tradi in the second act for Donna Elvira (thus slanting what was a semi-seria role more to opera seria), and a new scene for Leporello and Zerlina where she ties him up and shaves him! This latter scene is not the strongest (one reason why people rarely do this version) but the dramaturgy suits Mi Tradi rather more than in the traditional version. The other Vienna specific changes were that Don Ottavio gained his Act One aria but lost his Act Two aria, and there is a cut in the finale of Act Two. The excellent programme book included three articles about Don Giovanni, but beyond the statement 'Performed in the 1788 Vienna version' there was no explanation as to the significance of the edition used.

The orchestra made a relatively lean sound (just 24 strings) and under Pablo Gonzalez lively direction made a lithe and athletic account of the overture. This wasn't fat luxuriant Mozart, but slimline yet pungent and it generally suited the overall style of the performance with a cast of young voices.

Bozidar Smiljanic, Louise Alder - Don Giovanni - Glyndebourne on Tour - photo Tristram Kenton
Bozidar Smiljanic, Louise Alder - Don Giovanni
Glyndebourne on Tour - photo Tristram Kenton
Duncan Rock made a sexily dangerous Don Giovanni. His voice has developed an interesting strength and darkness since I last heard him, and this combined with a nice fluidity of phrasing. Rock could produce the honeyed, seductive phrases so that there were moments of great beauty, but he could turn nasty or angry in a moment and he clearly delighted in tormenting Leporello. The serenade was profoundly beautiful with a real sheen to the voice, my only real complaint was that the champagne aria seemed a little to matter of fact, lacking a bravura element. Each performer brings out different qualities in the character, that is part of the role's greatness, and Rock combined the danger and seductive, with real sexiness and a sense of the character's youth. In fact that whole production capitalised on the relative youth of the principals.

Rock and Brandon Cedel as Leporello created a fine double act. It helped that they were of a similar enough stature that the clothes swapping was believable. For all the abstract nature of the action the direction brought a nice sense of detail to the action, Don Giovanni and Leporello having swapped clothes before the opera opened (which meant we got to see Cedel in his underwear for the opening) made more sense of Donna Anna not recognising Don Giovanni except by his voice. Cedel's Leporello was rather dark (in the modern manner) rather than really buffo, but he and Rock created a believable co-dependent relationship which even hinted at an underlying but suppressed sexual tension. Cedel did the catalogue aria brilliantly and whilst the Act Two duet with Zerlina is hardly memorable, it was lovely to hear it.

Andrii Goniukov, Duncan Rock - Don Giovanni - Glyndebourne on Tour - photo Tristram Kenton
Andrii Goniukov, Duncan Rock - Don Giovanni graveyard scene
Glyndebourne on Tour - photo Tristram Kenton
Gone are the days when opera companies always cast a relatively dramatic soprano as Donna Anna and a more lyric one as Donna Elvira Ana Maria Labin is a relatively light-voiced Donna Anna (a role she sang with Classical Opera early this year, see my review). It was a real advantage to her having the lighter, lithe accompaniment and she sang with a lovely combination of spinto edge and fluent accuracy in the passagework, really making every note count. Her rather plangent tones were quite distinctive and use with great expressiveness, showing that the role can work without a hugely dramatic voice. My only worry was the way her very top range seemed to get edgier under pressure. A lovely detail in the final scene of Act One was when Donna Anna told Don Giovanni that he had been recognised as her attacker, she took off her mask and put it on Don Giovanni, thus referencing his appearance at the opening wearing a similar mask.

By contrast Magdalena Moldendowska seemed to have the more dramatic voice (she has Tosca planned) and there were moments when you wondered whether she was reigning it in a little. But the results were undoubtedly satisfyingly intense, and whilst the production seemed to verge on treating Donna Elvira as a joke at times, there was never and doubt about the dramatic commitment and intensity from Moldendowska. Mi Tradi in its correct setting was a real highlight.

Anthony Gregory made Don Ottavio's relative inaction seem to be natural and confident, rather than making the character seem ineffective. Gregory sang with an elegant fine-grained tone which made you miss his second aria. The relative slimness of his voice was a slight disadvantage in the ensembles he more than made up for it in the beauty of his solo singing.

Louise Alder made a delightful Zerlina, poised and self-assured, but sexy too. She brought out the character's innate conflict, she really is attracted to Don Giovanni and Alder's scenes with Rock really lit up the stage, and she made Zerlina's lyrical contributions really count, with a slimline yet elegant sense of line. She was finely partnered by the stylish yet dangerous Masetto of Bozidar Smiljanic (a singer who impressed in his performances at the Royal Academy of Music).

Andrii Goniunkov was a dark voiced and impressive Il Commendatore, taking full advantage of the dramatic way the final encounter with Don Giovanni was staged.

Ana Maria Labin, Duncan Rock, Louise Alder, Magdalena Molendowska - Don Giovanni Act One finale
Glyndebourne on Tour - photo Tristram Kenton
Thanks to Duncan Rock's stylish yet dramatic performance, the sense of hierarchy in the production as clear, but I felt that the male chorus could have been slightly more louche with more of a sense of street violence to bring out the difference to Don Giovanni (who is equally violent but has a sense of style and entitlement).

The recitatives had a sense of really having been worked on, so that the drama flowed naturally and with a vividness which is not always the case.  This was a performance which really engaged, involving you in the drama and the various venues on the tour have a treat in store.

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