Review – Don Giovanni
Don Giovanni – Ildebrando D’Arcangelo
Leporello – Luca Pisaroni
Donna Anna – Diane Damrau
Don Ottavio – Rolando Villazón
Donna Elvira – Joyce DiDonato
Masetto – Konstantin Wolff
Zerlina – Mojca Erdmann
Mahler Chamber Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Conductor)
Don Giovanni is one of my favourite operas of all time. Indeed the first CD I ever bought was Haitink’s recording of Don Giovanni and to this day – while I have pretty much every other recording – it remains my favourite recording of this work. Haitink draws magnificent singing from the cast – yes even Maria Ewing – and his sense of pacing and drama is second to none. And no Don’s final cry is as chilling as Sir Thomas Allen’s.
On paper, this new recording of Don Giovanni has excellent prospects – a strong cast and an excellent conductor and orchestra.
But somewhere, somehow, it doesn’t fall into all the right places.
I know it is almost “common hackney’d” to say that – like The Godfather – this opera rises or falls on the Don. But is it true. The Don Giovanni character isn’t only the lead, but he is the foundation on which each and every reaction by every other character is played out upon.
The Don Giovanni in Opera North’s recent production wasn’t up to muster and sadly, on this recording neither is Ildebrando d’Arcangelo. It isn’t that he is a bad Don. He sings all the notes. But it is that he simply sings the notes. There is no depth or dimension, light or shade to either his voice or performance and consequently therefore his characterization is a cipher. This is a shame as I have seen him as Leporello at Covent Garden and even his solo recital CD was a stronger performance that we have here.
For me, the most telling moment isn’t in the more expected passages or arias but his performance in the quartet Non ti fidar, o misera. This is the very moment when Don Giovanni’s world because to unravel. In my opinion, he could have got away with the murder of the Commendatore up to this point, but from here on in it’s all downhill. And there is nothing from d’Arcangelo at this point that indicates either this, or the necessity suaveness of character that he realizes he needs if he is to dupe Donna Anna (again) and Don Ottavio.
And sadly this sense of a single dimension Don is evident throughout the opera. La ci darem la mano is tepid with single moments of loud bluster and only in Deh! Vieni alla finestra do we get even the smallest hint of what could have been.
And the closing scenes have none of the electricity and menace that is usually so evident. Indeed so lukewarm and lacklustre are the closing scenes that I’m surprised the Commendatore didn’t simply shrug and not bother. Hell would probably be a more interesting place without this Don Giovanni.
Similarly, casting Rolando Villazón seems an odd choice. Perhaps mentally sporting doublet and hose for Don Ottavio and the Spanish story confused him. For the most part he sings the role as if he is actually on the set of Don Carlo.
Konstantin Wolff is passable as Masetto and so it’s left for Luca Pisaroni to redeem the men of the cast. His Leporello is magnificent – confident as well as confidante, darkly humoured with just the right sneer to his voice. Madamina, il catalogo è questa, from his opening word is a musical equivalent of a money shot even if the orchestra is a little lacklustre. Indeed I couldn’t quite work out why Pisaroni wasn’t the Don sometimes.
And so to the women. Mojca Erdmann is as passable as her beau and while Diana Damrau takes a while to warm up at the beginning, hers is a formidable Donna Anna both musically as well as in terms of character. Of course it is in the two magnificent set pieces that Mozart wrote for this character that Damrau shines. While some sopranos see these more as opportunities for vocal athleticism than personality, Diana Damrau delivers both – pinpoint accuracy, brilliant singing and intense characterization.
For example, just listen to how Ms Damrau shades her voice and handles the words when recounting Don Giovanni’s assault before launching into a full-blooded reminiscence of her struggle. And all this before she launches into a magnificent rendition of Or sai chi l’onore.
Similarly Crudele … Non mi dir, bell’idol mio. Each phrase in the accompanied recitative is beautifully molded and the subsequent aria is a masterclass of how this aria should be sung. Not as a vehicle for vocal fireworks so much as a heartfelt plea to her fiancé. Although by this point in the opera I think she has pretty much made up her mind to dump the man.
And Joyce DiDonato – vocally superb as ever – brings just the right shade of insanity to Donna Elvira from her opening aria where she literally spits out ‘empio’ to In quali ecessi … Mi tradi quell’alma ingrata where her technique is as much in evidence as her musicianship.
Sadly however – and through no fault of their own – both Mesdames Damrau and DiDonato don’t stand out because of the quality of their own individual performance. Rather they inadvertently suffer from the lacklustre contributions of their colleagues.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin more than ably conducts the Mahler Chamber Orchestra through a note-precise performance and you cannot fault his sympathetic support of the singers. But I did wont for greater orchestral characterization. Mozart filled the score with an incredibly amount of colour and bite and for the most part it isn’t much in evidence either in Nézet-Séguin’s conducting nor in the playing of the orchestra.
So all in all this Don Giovanni doesn’t add up for me. For the majority of the time it’s like looking at a watercolour copy of a Goya oil painting. The characters are all there but somehow the music making has got watered down.