Don Giovanni - Royal Opera House, 21 February 2012
Francesca Zambello's witless, charmless, tasteless production hasn't improved with age. But great performers can redeem even the most idiotic of stagings - and frequently have to in these parts. If Erwin Schrott isn't the finest Don Giovanni around right now I'll eat my pants. Yours too.
Untrammeled by Zambello's vaguely 18th century 'look', his Don is a timeless archetype, fuelled by the sense of entitlement and complete lack of self-doubt seen in masters of the universe from Genghis Khan to Rupert Murdoch. His every appetite must be satisfied immediately. He leaps on Donna Elvira and Zerlina almost before he's even said hello. You just know that if he fancied a steak he'd go bite a cow.
Why Schrott is giving up the role is a mystery. He claims he doesn't like the character, but nothing in his performance betrays that fact. He sang with variety and taste, floating a seductive Deh vieni, exploding into a full voiced roar for the final flames.
Pavol Breslik was pretty impressive too. Too often Don Ottavio is an irritating drip, but Breslik makes him a chivalrous counterpart to Don Giovanni, embodying the nobility and civic responsibility which characterises the other side of the ruling class. He delivered his arias with impeccable Mozartian style and such superb control that not a breath was perceptible.
The rest of the cast, while perfectly decent, struggled to escape the bounds of the production. I felt particularly sorry for Ruxandra Donose, quite probably a decent Donna Elvira anywhere else, but trapped here in one-note hysterics as a jilted bride, forever gathering the skirts of her ragged and worn wedding dress.
I lucked out with a side view so restricted I couldn't see the set (a revolving wall tricked out like an '80s Madonna video with dry ice and crucifixes, if memory serves). Fortunately, the functional blocking parks the singers right at the front of the stage for most of the time, so I didn't miss too much action.
I also missed out on the scheduled conductor, Constantinos Carydis, replaced at short notice by Christopher Willis from the ROH music staff. Some initial coordination and balance problems aside, he did a sterling job in the pit. Crucially, his tempos were spot-on. Not quite Colin Davis, but then who is?
Production photos (above) - Mike Hoban for Royal Opera House
Curtain call photos (below) - intermezzo.typepad.com