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2006-5, Zürich, review of Jane Garrett

Don Giovanni, 20 May 2006, Zurich

A personal view by Jane Garratt.

Deciding to go to Zurich to see this performance was a leap of faith for me. Zurich’s a long way away, and after the very mixed reception of the Vienna performances I wondered whether I’d made the right decision. Well, I feel so privileged to have seen this performance, now.

Zurich is a fairly small opera house. From the auditorium you feel very close to the singers and the entire production is designed to suit this type of space. The staging is minimalist, with few props, and most of the action takes place in one room in a very grand hotel.

The small orchestra, very skilfully conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, allows the music to support the singers; giving them time to sing at their own tempo and volume, without producing the feeling that the action is dragging. Their playing is crisp, every note is clear, and I heard details of the harmony that have escaped me before.

DG_Zurich_2006_001_p15Inside the hotel room on stage there’s a definite feeling of the “jet set” involved in an endless round of parties and sleepovers, with just a hint of the Mafia (the men have flick knifes, and there are several handguns). Don Giovanni is definitely the centre of this group. He’s provided the strippers, the refreshments and the music; and in return most of the women, including Anna and Elvira, are apparently happy to sleep with him. Masetto and Zerlina are involved in a pre-wedding hen and stag night party in the same hotel, and get drawn into the action.

The singing is a superb team effort. The voices are well matched and the diction is exceptionally clear, I really could hear every word. Don Ottavio (Piotr Beczala) has a very slight roughness on the high notes, but everyone else sings beautifully throughout. All these singers, except for Simon Keenlyside are new to me, but I certainly want to hear them again.

The relationship between Don Ottavio and Donna Anna (sung by Eva Mei) is entirely different to anything I’ve ever seen before. They are together, certainly, but in a passionless relationship. Don Ottavio comes over as a very good man, but a cold man, who lacks the vital spark that would give him humanity. It is very clear why Anna would be happy to be seduced by Don Giovanni – Don Ottavio simply isn’t interested in a physical relationship. Both his arias are sung with great intensity, but not to Anna. He sings to the idea that a woman is a treasure to be placed on a pedestal and worshipped – without physical contact. The other women in the production are all in rather abusive relationships, several of them are killed or injured on stage by their partners. These rather damaged women are all attracted to Don Ottavio, because he would treat them well, without demanding an intimacy that they don’t really want.

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Zerlina (Martina Jankova), is also played in a way that I’ve never seen before. She is extremely physical, and very young, but her judgement is sound. Of all the women in the piece, she is the only one to decide (eventually!) that Don Giovanni is not offering anything that is right for her. Yes, she enjoys the seduction, yes she is tempted, but in the ball scene she finally changes her mind, runs back to Masetto, and is brutally removed by Don Giovanni. There is no doubt that the Don intends to rape her at this point.

Leporello (Anton Scharinger) was excellent in the part and really convincing in his relationship with Don Giovanni. There was never any doubt who held the power here – every time Leporello displeased the Don he got hurt, deliberately and brutally, but they also both enjoyed what they were doing to the women.

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I’ve said that everyone is worth watching, but Don Giovanni (Simon Keenlyside) blazes across the stage from his first entrance – shirtless, and hurdling the furniture, as he runs away from Donna Anna – to his death from a stroke in the last scenes. Simon’s remarkable voice, combined with a deep understanding of the part, and the ability to portray so many layers of the Don’s character, makes this an absolutely unforgettable performance. Every movement has been thought about, and then honed, so that on the night he flows from seduction, to brutality, to terror with absolute conviction. In each scene he goes just a little bit beyond what is acceptable, and the rapid and minimal set changes, help him keep up the relentless progress towards his final doom.

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All of his scenes had me on the edge of my seat, but the highlight of the evening for me was the “Deh! vieni alla finestra”. In this production the Don is alone on stage, sitting on top of a cocktail bar. He sings the song directly to the audience, but with an inner focus, so that I felt he is trying to describe both his own reaction to women and the effect they have on him. It is intensely personal, and almost too quiet to hear, but I’m sure everyone in the auditorium felt that Simon was singing to them alone. The silence at the end of this aria was one of those spine-tingling moments when nothing moves; and then he went on with the action so we couldn’t applaud, and that was perfect for the moment, too.

This is just wonderful, it’s going to be broadcast on 3sat, and is coming out on DVD. Don’t miss it!

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JG, May 2006

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