Mariusz Kwiecien and Carlos Álvarez: Two Superb Don Giovannis Lead the Way at the Liceu

SpainSpain Mozart, Don Giovanni: Liceu Orchestra and Chorus / Josep Pons (conductor), Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 26 & 27.6.2017. (JMI)

From Don Giovanni © A. Bofill.
Don Giovanni © A. Bofill

Don Giovanni – Mariusz Kwiecien/Carlos Álvarez
Leporello – Simón Orfila/Anatoli Sivko
Donna Anna – Carmela Remigio/Vanesa Goikoetxea
Donna Elvira – Miah Persson/Myrto Papatanasiu
Don Ottavio – Dmitry Korchak/Toby Spence
Zerlina – Julia Lezhneva/Rocío Ignacio
Comendatore – Eric Halfvarson/Mariano Buccino
Masetto – Valeriano Lanchas/Toni Marsol

Co-production: Liceu, Covent Garden, Tel Aviv Opera & Houston Grand Opera
Director – Kasper Holten (original), Amy Lane (revival)
Sets – Es Devlin
Costumes – Anja Vang Kragh
Lighting – Bruno Poet
Video Projections – Luke Halls

Don Giovanni has returned to the Liceu, following the famous and provocative Calixto Bieito production done here in December 2002 and July 2008. On this occasion, the Liceu has programmed two different casts, led by two star protagonists, in the Kasper Holten staging that is known to many opera lovers but new here. It premiered in February 2014 at Covent Garden and has been seen in movie theatres.

I’ve now seen this production both in the movies and live on the opera stage and am not totally convinced by it. The stage consists of a rotating block with apartments on two levels, connected by stairs and with multiple doors, which is all quite confusing. The sets also serve as a screen for video projections that relate more or less to the action. The Victorian costumes for Donna Anna and Donna Elvira are attractive, but less effective for the others. The lighting works quite well.

Kasper Holten offers a rather ambivalent vision of the characters: nobody is entirely good or bad. Here Don Giovanni does not attempt to seduce the daughter of the Commendatore in the first scene, but rather he has an appointment with her, which resolves in an interesting way the later encounter of the protagonist with Don Ottavio and Donna Anna. The scenes of the Commendatore, who never comes into contact with Don Giovanni, are unconvincing, except the first one. The graveyard scene and the dinner in Don Giovanni’s house work even less well.

The musical version offered at the Liceu is questionable. In London, the opera finished with the descent of Don Giovanni into Hell, but here one gets the final moral without the sextet: the aforementioned moral is sung from the pit.

The conductor was the musical director of the Liceu, Josep Pons. A few months ago he led a rather flat Nozze di Figaro, and I was curious to see what would happen with Don Giovanni, a drama giocoso and not an opera buffa. His reading, while not totally convincing, worked better than in The Marriage of Figaro. Everything was well controlled, although the balance between sections of the orchestra was not always the most desirable. Once again, the orchestra showed how much it has improved from a few years ago.

Don Giovanni was sung in the first cast by baritone Mariusz Kwiecien, who is undoubtedly one of the great interpreters of the role, if not the best of them. He was an outstanding Don Giovanni from beginning to end. In the second cast, Carlos Álvarez was also excellent in the role, particularly in vocal terms.

Leporello was sung by Simón Orfila, who offered a solid performance both dramatically and vocally. In the second cast Anatoli Sivko was a quite modest interpreter.

Carmela Remigio was fine in the role of Donna Anna and sang with gusto and musicality. She is, however, not the dramatic soprano that the character requires, but rather a light-lyric soprano. Vanessa Goikoetxea was a rather modest Donna Anna in the second cast, tight at the top and with difficult agilities.

Miah Persson was more than remarkable as Donna Elvira, always singing with intent and good taste. Her vocal suitability to the character is more questionable: her voice is closer to Zerlina than to Donna Elvira. Soprano Myrto Papatanasiu was appropriate in the role although light and strident at the top, and less interesting than Ms. Persson.

As Don Ottavio, tenor Dmitry Korchak’s interpretation of the arias ‘Dalla sua pace’ and ‘Il mio tesoro’ were magnificent. Surely he is the best Don Ottavio today. Toby Spence did well in the second cast, with elegant singing.

Soprano Lezhneva has a very attractive voice and was perfect as Zerlina. Rocío Ignacio was a good Zerlina on stage, but rather monotonous in her singing.

Once again, Eric Halfvarson was the Commander; his voice is powerful, although now there is an excessive and annoying vibrato. Mariano Buccino in the second cast was less interesting. Both Valeriano Lanchas and Toni Marsol did well in the part of Masetto.

José M. Irurzun 

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