Friday, 30 September 2011

No Exit from the Wiener Staatsoper’s Don Giovanni

25/09/2011

Adam Plachetka | Don Giovanni
Myrtò Papatanasiu | Donna Anna
Pavol Breslik | Don Ottavio
Dinara Alieva | Donna Elvira
Alex Esposito | Leporello
Albert Dohmen | Commendatore
Tae Joong Yang | Masetto
Anita Hartig | Zerlina

Patrick Lange | Conductor
Jean-Louis Martinoty | Director


Marked improvement would be putting it too strongly, but over the last month Staatsoper rep nights have been more consistent in quality than is generally the case. Ian Storey’s Bacchus has been the only casting disaster and the orchestra is sounding a lot more focused than usual. Even some Viennese critics known for checking in their ears at the Garderobe have at times been reliable witnesses.

Plachetka publicity shot with
um, monogrammed shirt cuffs
While I was braced for all this to come crashing down to earth at some point or other, it was hard to endure the awfulness of Sunday’s Don Giovanni. Youthful Einspringer Adam Plachetka (replacing Bo Skovhus as the Don) was the only singer who didn’t contribute to the Schlamperei pile-up. His aggressive take on the role is watchable enough if lacking in insights, though should they come I imagine his will be a Don worth watching out for in the not so distant future. ‘Là ci darem’ was never going to sound tender and expressive with a bass-baritone this intense and dark, but control was impressive and he kept up admirably with Patrick Lange’s punishing tempo in the champagne aria.

It goes swiftly downhill from here. Pavol Breslik: what the hell happened in ‘Dalla sua pace’? The tempo was brisk enough that he shouldn’t have repeatedly run out of breath towards the ends of phrases, the tone sounding strangled and thin. Myrtò Papatanasiu’s robust soprano and wide vibrato harangued too forcefully; top notes were disturbingly sharp and phrases got flattened. Dinara Alieva’s Elvira sounded constrained and her reading of ‘Ah, chi mi dice mai’ one of the driest I’ve heard. Albert Dohmen’s Commendatore projected much better this time around (he was in the premiere cast last year), but shame about the mangled Italian on incipits as elementary, not to mention famous, as ‘a cenar teco m’invitasti’. Anita Hartig and Tae Joong Yang gave competent but undistinguished performances. Alex Esposito was trying too hard as Leporello: his catalogue aria had a lot of strange vocal inflections and acting was insufferably stagy.

None of this was helped by Jean-Louis Martinoty’s production, which has revived appallingly. Its dramaturgical pretensions long withered away, all that remains is a string of inanities that doesn’t even compare favourably with what the Austrians call Bauerntheater, or incompetent am dram staged in a barn. During the dinner scene Leporello prances around the stage wearing the Don’s pheasant as a codpiece, his hips bobbing like a pigeon. Masetto’s response to Zerlina’s ‘where does it hurt?’ is to point to his groin. It seems more of a saving grace that these two moments could be reconstructed from the Regiebuch when you see the crap acting elsewhere: Donna Anna throwing her umbrella to the ground, the Commendatore kicking the Don, Masetto’s hair-pulling in ‘Batti, batti’.

But I'm sure the orchestra was all right, I hear you ask. Not really. There was some decent playing, but they didn't adjust well to Patrick Lange’s tempi and ensemble never felt secure. Pit and singers were often not together, and balance was poorly-judged (the mandolin in ‘Deh, vieni’ was inaudible). For all the blame that can be placed at Lange’s door, the Staatsopernorchester ought to know this score well enough to compensate.

Image credit Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn

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