Great Don Giovanni, Not as Successful Don Giovanni

FranceFrance W.A.Mozart: Don Giovanni, Capitole Orchestra and Chorus, Attilio Cremonesi (conductor), Toulouse’s Capitole, 17.3.2013 (JMI)

Don Giovanni: Christopher Maltman
Leporello: Alex Esposito
Donna Anna: Tamar Iveri
Donna Elvira: Maite Beaumont
Don Ottavio: Dmitry Korchak
Zerlina: Vannina Santoni
Masetto: Ipca Ramanovic
Comendatore: Alexey Tikhomirov

Théâtre du Capitole
Direction: Brigitte Jaques-Wajeman
Sets and Costumes: Emmanuel Peduzzi
Lighting: Jean Kalman

The more I see Don Giovanni the more I realize the enormous difficulties involved in producing this opera and how difficult it is to make it a success. It needs an intelligent and creative stage director, an outstanding conductor, a protagonist who is not only an excellent singer, but is also able to make himself both charismatic and loathsome. It also requires a Don Ottavio who, besides singing very well, does not get bored with the role, plus 3 female characters with excellent voices and the ability to bring their characters to life.

It’s possible to say that this goes for all operas, but this is only partly true. There are operas that can work despite a mediocre production, but this is not the case with Mozart. With this musical genius everything is special because of its huge simplicity, which leaves the singers completely exposed. If they aren’t extremely good they would be better off taking a different path, and if this is always true in Mozart operas, it is particularly true in Don Giovanni.

Unfortunately, not everything came together in this production so I can’t describe it as a total success.

The stage production was the first weak element of this performance  It was premiered here by Brigitte Jaques-Wajeman in 2005, with Ludovic Tezier in the title role, and was revived two years later with Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as the Don. Ms Jaques-Wajeman is one of the most prestigious theater directors in France and Don Giovanni was her debut in the world of opera.

The sets consisted of big trees, around which the action took place. In the first act we saw the trees, in the second their roots are also shown, and they disappear altogether in the final scene. Whether we are talking of Zerlina´s betrothal or the palace of Don Giovanni, the trees are always present. Is there any special meaning?

The costumes are confusing. Don Giovanni and Leporello are dressed for the 18th century, Donna Anna and Donna Elvira wear party gowns (rather oddly for the forest), and the rest of the characters seem to wear clothes of the 50/60s of the 20th century. What does this mishmash mean? Nothing says the director in her notes on the program, but I guess it must be about the timeless nature of this particular archetype.

The stage direction went more the way of the opera buffa than the drama giocoso, with little action other than that provided by the great acting by Don Giovanni and Leporello. At the end of the opera Don Giovanni came back on to the stage embracing a girl, while the rest of the cast sang the moral.

Attilio Cremonesi is a conductor whose work has been very much based in Baroque opera, with some incursions into the works of Mozart. I did not find his reading too compelling, especially in the first act. From the overture on there was little drama, and there seemed to be a corresponding lack of energy, and especially surprising was the way he conducted Finch’han dal vino, which came across as an andante.

As with his Così Fan Tutte a couple of years back in this same theater, his conducting was very accurate, but Don Giovanni requires much more than that. He insisted on raising the pit, which affected the balance with the stage, especially considering that the Capitole is not a big house. A more inspired baton is needed to do justice to this masterpiece.

Regarding the cast, the male voices worked much better than the female ones, which came as something of a surprise.

Don Giovanni himself was the British baritone Christopher Maltman, who I found most convincing. His baritone is not as attractive as Ludovic Tezier, his figure on stage is not as appealling as Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, but I have rarely seen a Don Giovanni where the protagonist paid so much attention to the recitatives, which he always sang with a highly commendable focus. Overall, I find him one of the best Don Giovannis today.

Alex Esposito was an outstanding Leporello, both as singer and actor, and was udoubtedly the audience’s favorite. The voice of this bass-baritone is not very attractive, but he knows how to handle it and he is an excellent actor.

Tamar Iveri repeated her Donna Anna, having sung the role in 2007. Her voice is not very flexible, and her top register has become too tight. In five years she has not improved and I do not think Mozart is a good field for her.

Maite Beaumont was Donna Elvira and her voice was not very well suited to the character. Donna Elvira needs the sort of ample voice that Ms Beaumont does not possess, even though she is a good performer. Moreover, the high notes are not too easy for her, as they are more in the soprano range. I think she could have been a great Zerlina, a character that would fit her like a glove.

Dmitry Korchak was a remarkable Don Ottavio, singing his two arias with gusto. His voice is not particularly attractive, but he is a very interesting singer. The two arias that Mozart dedicated to Don Ottavio are a great touchstone for any tenor and Mr Korchak was excellent.

Vannina Santoni was a modest Zerlina, not particularly convincing in her arias or in the duet with Don Giovanni. Ipca Ramanovic was a good-voiced Masetto, but a little inmature. Alexey Tikhomirov was a Comendatore of a somewhat reduced stature.

The Capitole was sold out, with people searching for tickets and it should be noted that the same thing happened in both 2005 and 2007. The audience did not show much enthusiasm during the performance, but showed their appreciation during the final bows, where the greatest applause went to Alex Esposito and Christopher Maltman.

José Mª. Irurzun