S&H Opera review - Hans-Theodor Wohlfahrt suffers at Glyndebourne again but hails a great Mozart conductor.
Mozart Don Giovanni - Glyndebourne July 15th 2000
After "Cosi fan tutte"(1998), revived this year, and "Le nozze di Figaro" at the beginning of the current Glyndebourne season, Music Director Andrew Davis and Graham Vick, Director of Productions, came up with a new "Don Giovanni" in the original Prague version of 1787, their farewell present to an Opera Festival, which proudly calls Mozart its House Composer.
It turned out - more or less as expected - to be another sad and deeply frustrating occasion. Gus Christie, who succeeded his father Sir George Christie as Executive Chairman on January 1st, and General Director Nicolas Snowman would be well advised to put all three productions to sleep. For financial considerations this will not be the case.
But all is not lost as long as future revivals are trusted to the right conductor - and Glyndebourne is in the lucky position to be able to call on a truly great Mozart conductor (more about that later).
Andrew Davis, who had given the opening concert of this year's Proms the night before, seemed in great mood to show off, but even the smallest key to Mozart must have gone missing on the journey between the Royal Albert Hall and the Sussex Downs! He speeded through the overture like a racing car without any feeling for the underlying danger and lurking demons. Here, the genius Mozart tells us that "Don Giovanni" does not only lead to hell, but that the whole opera mirrors hell.
Later on, I got the feeling that even the London Philharmonic was not prepared for certain tempi. Davis hardly ever tried to keep the balance between pit and stage, the singers were half a beat behind far too often, while ensembles became chaotic; placing the two continuo instruments (fortepiano and cello) in the far left corner of the pit created further balance problems.
Musically, this "Don Giovanni" turned out to be the most uneven, unemotional and weakest performance I ever experienced on a professional stage. But, as I pointed out in my disappointed review of "Figaro", opera is about music and only about music. The more a producer rapes the singers, forcing them to follow his ego trip, the more the conductor has to take the lead and to breathe the composer's intentions. Under different circumstances this less than ideal cast would still have been capable of delivering an impressive interpretation, even despite the most vulgar, tasteless and meaningless staging. It is, therefore, difficult and rather unfair, to judge the performance of the eight protagonists. With the exception of Barbara Frittoli (Donna Anna) and Bruce Ford (Don Ottavio) everybody sounded indifferent, while Sandra Zelzer (Donna Elvira) sang despite a bad throat infection, and in the second act was hardly audible.
After "Cosi" and "Figaro", one was again confronted with the same creamy coloured rehearsal stage, and the by now familiar radiator on the back wall. Only this time, a volcano seemed to have erupted outside; a stream of dark brown lava had broken through the right wall and filled half of the stage. Of course, one had to cope once more with endless costume clichés ranging from the mid 18th century to the present day, whereby Don Giovanni (Natale de Carolis) changed his clothes non-stop. Finally, he turned up in black leather trousers, leaving his dirty chest naked and looking like a sexless beast - assuming that we, the audience, are far too stupid to realise that Giovanni is a timeless monster.
Just before the Commendatore (Gwynne Howell), dressed in slippers, pyjamas and dressing-gown, pushed Don Giovanni into hell, he covered his body with a huge fur coat, while simultaneously being confronted and haunted by his shadows in the same costume. The intention of the designer Richard Hudson could have been a mixture between Hieronymus Bosch and a strange Walpurgisnight - everything was possible and allowed, a wild spectacle of symbols and blasphemy.
The visual impact had no coherence, was wearisome, boring and easily forgotten the moment the curtain came down. Graham Vick showed his real face during the curtain call; he must have wanted to stir up the audience and to cause a scandal; but to his visible disappointment hardly anybody came up with a boo. Poor man, his arrogance did not pay off.
After Don Ottavio´s aria in the second act the music stopped suddenly making way for funeral bells, while the open coffin with the Commendatore was carried on to the lava mountain. I am ashamed of Andrew Davis, who again showed no backbone and as in "Figaro" allowed Mozart´s music to be interrupted by Graham Vick´s fatal nonsense. Far too many Luis Bunuel like images provoked laughter. When in the churchyard Leporello (Alessandro Corbelli) invited for dinner the body in the coffin, not a statue, the real Commendatore sat next to the coffin and moved the head of his dummy! Finally, just before the 'stone guest' in his dressing gown shuffled down the lava, Don Giovanni lowered the body of a dead horse hanging over him, cut open its stomach and consumed its heart and other entrails with brutal lust.
One could get on and on, but what for?
There is nothing to say against a contemporary interpretation of any opera, as long as it extends the music and keeps within its structure and intention. This staging managed perfectly to kill off what was left over of Mozart.
Cosi fan tutte - Glyndebourne 16th July 2000
After the "Don Giovanni" experience I was certainly not looking forward to "Cosi fan tutte" the next day, especially as I had not done my homework properly and expected Andrew Davis again in the pit.
To my surprise, some (for me) completely unknown conductor turned up, and as the auditorium was already dark, I had no chance to find out who he was.
But with the first few beats into the overture the miracle happened. Here stood somebody, whose heart beat Mozart in the most breathtaking manner. Quickly, I forgot all the mannerism, all the brutal rubbish that happened on stage, all the stage managers and crew, who filled this rehearsal under the direction of Don Alfonso, all the sex symbols and the childish behaviour forced onto the soloists. The staging became completely irrelevant, because the music was allowed to blossom fully and uninterrupted.
Louis Langrée, the French Music Director of the Glyndebourne Touring Company, possessed magic power not only over the London Philharmonic, which suddenly played with an astonishing, feverish lightness and delicacy, but also over the stage, holding all the strings in his hands constantly striving for the most vivid musical spirit without ever forcing the singers to abandon Graham Vick's rather silly stage directions or to play safe.
His phrasing, his balance, his distinctive approach towards the orchestra accompanying arias displayed freshness, accuracy and liveliness to an extent I had not experienced live for some time. Everybody in the pit and on stage was eager to follow his baton and to let the music flow.
With Alexandra von der Weth (Fiordiligi) and Laura Polverelli (Dorabella) the two contrasting sisters could not have been cast better. They were not only extremely good looking and playful sexy girls, they also understood how to project the eroticism of their vocal lines. The two cavaliers, Paul Austin Kelly (Ferrando) and Nathan Gunn(Guglielmo), had to work hard to keep pace with such passionate frivolity. Alan Opie (Don Alfonso) and Elizabeth Gale (Despina) pulled the wires with equal charm and joy.
Musically, this "Cosi fan tutte" revival produced vintage Glyndebourne and one can only hope that Louis Langrée will carry Mozart's flame for some years to come.
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