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Saturday 11 June 2011

Glyndebourne II: Don Giovanni

Glyndebourne Festival

Two consecutive nights at Glyndebourne - such a treat. Again it was confirmed to me that in every regard, this is the best opera house in the UK.

This Film Noir version of Don Giovanni mostly works very well, and is a stylish, atmospheric and interesting updating which, like the ROH's recent updating of The Tzar's bride, never fights the score or libretto, and even offers a few interesting insights. The set by Paul Brown is a constantly revolving and unfolding cube, part house, part ruin and provides a simple and effectively moody backdrop to the piece. Revival director Lloyd Wood also doesn't mess too much with the piece and lets the thing speak for itself. It's not a complicated production but it works. And works well. (Or is it more complicated? Is the set a reflection of Don Giovanni's mind/soul - confident, sleek and fortress like at the outset, and fractured and ruined by the end? Hmm...) What's also quite nice is that the set requires the characters to be near the front of the stage for much of the time which means they're easier to hear and their interactions are clearer - this had been a fault of the first act of the Meistersinger production the previous night.

The singing was absolutely fantastic throughout. Most impressive was Albina Shagimuratova as the Metastasian heroin, Donna Anna. This is a dramatic voice in intensity and volume, but the colour is lyric - warm, focused with a beautiful vibrato and effortless flexibility. Really amazing. Unfortunately her acting is not up to much and she failed to portray a convincing character on stage. But, she's that rarest of things - the dramatic coloratura and I can't wait to see her as Queen of the Night at the ROH next season.

Matthew Rose as Leporello was also on very fine form vocally, but similarly failed to construct a believable character in Leporello. This role is always going to get laughs, but never once did I believe his antics. The same problem was also there last summer in The Rake's Progress - his vocally nuanced Nick Shadow never quite had enough character to be menacing. Hopefully he'll grow into this aspect of opera because he certainly has the vocal talent to go very far.

The other two girls were sung by Miah Persson (as Donna Elvira) and Marita Solberg (as Zerlina). Miah Persson has a beautiful voice and a charming stage presence and looking like a film-noir cliché (she has the looks too), made a brilliantly tormented Donna Elvira. It wasn't quite as overplayed and comedic as usual and was an interesting take on the role. Occasionally one wished for a little more volume to make her anger the more convincing but I liked her throughout. Marita Solberg I had never heard before; she has a richer, fuller tone than one is perhaps used to in the role of Zerlina (her other roles tend to be full lyric rep as far as I can see), but it worked wonderfully here - her two arias, the glowing jewels of this opera, were floatingly gorgeous affairs. I actually can't imagine them being sung more beautifully. Strange then that her recitative was oddly muddy and rather dull, though her acting of this coquette role (she was dressed like Marilyn Monroe) was cute and characterful.

Lucas Meachem took on the role of Don Giovanni, but having seen Gerald Finley as Sachs the night before and knowing that he sung the role last summer when this production was premiered, I occasionally yearned to hear him sing it instead. Not at all fair though as Lucas Meachem sung the part brilliantly, displaying power, menace and beauty, all essential for a good Don. He's a decent actor too, serious and realistic, but just maybe a tad old and a tad portly to be convincing as a serial seducer. I guess if the Rake has slept with as many women as are mentioned in the catalogue song, he's going to have seen a few summers! The other men were also good, especially In-Sung Sim as the Commendatore, a colossal bass voice, and here resurrected at the end as a zombie, putrescent, bloodied and with glistening viscera on show.

Finally the The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. I have never heard Mozart's magnificent score performed better than it was this night - just truly breathtaking playing in every parameter. Simon Rattle hits the nail on the head when he says "period intruments have more colour, flavour, shape and less weight than modern ones. They are more tangy, more piccante. We can play full out with greatest passion, and still sound like Mozart". This was exactly the impression I had - such colour, incisiveness, white hot intensity and extraordinary beauty I have never before heard in a performance of music of the classical era, but at the same time never once did it go outside the bounds of what might be considered good taste. This was in no small part due to the amazing young conductor Robin Ticciati who is surely one of the most exciting young talents in Britain at the moment. It's a bizarre conducting technique, with an ill defined beat, and odd bouncing stance, but clearly something works and very well too, because he lead a similarly orchestrally magnificent performance of Hansel and Gretel last summer at the festival (again, one of the most incredible evening of music I've had the pleasure of attending). Unspeakably brilliant.

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