OPERA NEWS - Don Giovanni
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Don Giovanni

Los Angeles Philharmonic

In Review LA Don Giovanni hdl 812
Los Angeles Philharmonic's production of Don Giovanni at Walt Disney Concert Hall, led by Gustavo Dudamel, in collaboration with Frank Gehry, Rodarte and Christopher Alden
© Autumn de Wilde 2012

Fully staged performances of opera in concert halls constitute an interesting new trend in the classical-music business. The Los Angeles Philharmonic is the latest company to undertake a project of this nature, with its Don Giovanni (seen May 26), staged by Christopher Alden and conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, marking the start of a proposed three-season presentation of the Mozart–da Ponte operas.

Director Alden obviously recognized the limitations of staging opera in the Walt Disney Concert Hall — a significant portion of the audience sits behind or severely to the side of the stage platform, for example — and did nothing to strain the bounds of an already constrained situation. The aura of Alden's production was phantasmagoric: the set, designed by Frank Gehry, was entirely white and consisted of wooden boxes of various sizes, over which the singers clambered, and bulky masses of white paper. Also white was the intense, unvariegated light, designed by Adam Silverman, that flooded the set. The slightly militaristic costumes by Kate and Laura Mulleavy for Rodarte were white, too, with the exception of black ensembles for the Commendatore and Donna Elvira, who was handsomely arrayed like the Queen of the Night, and a costume in faded lilac for Zerlina. Although the pervasive whiteness lacked nuance and contrast, the statuesque, often surreal, contours of both the singers and the set looked striking in the Disney auditorium. The staging was short on spectacle, however: Giovanni's descent into the abyss was pure bathos, as he and the statue had to be wheeled offstage by four zombie-like stagehands, who had spent the whole evening solemnly moving the boxes around.

In such a formal setting, the seria aspects of the action came to the fore at the expense of the buffa. Singers engaged in intricately worked-out gestural patterns and moved around the stage in slow motion, frequently as if in a dream. Among the men, Pavol Breslik's Don Ottavio carried the day. Breslik has a pleasingly lyrical voice with unexpected reserves of power in both volume and breath control, so that a plaint of love was often transformed into a complex and insistent demand for emotional satisfaction. If only this Don Ottavio had not been directed to spend so much time lying flat on the stage, one could have identified with him better. 

Mariusz Kwiecien's Giovanni paced the stage slowly, while his hands roamed over his mistresses' figures as if he were imagining some ideal feminine form. Giovanni's outbursts of desire were spasmodic and faintly obscene, and — unaccountably — he prayed before the final supper. Kevin Burdette's bass is a shade too elegant for Leporello, though he sang the role with fine irony; his movements were puppet-like, reminiscent of the traditional Austrian clown, Kasperle, rather than a scurrilous servant. As there was not much buffa, Ryan Kuster had little to do as Masetto, although he sang, somewhat out of character, with authority, while Stefan Kocan's mighty voice endowed the Commendatore with frightening presence.

As Donna Elvira, Aga Mikolaj displayed interestingly dark tones toward the top of her range but became increasingly inaudible as her voice descended. Carmela Remigio sang Donna Anna with emotional conviction, but her voice audibly tired in Act II, with hints of serious thinness and fraying in "Non mi dir." Anna Prohaska's Zerlina provided some of the few buffa moments of theperformance, which were quite welcome.

The glory of the evening was the playing of the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Dudamel's exceptionally assured baton. Unsurprisingly, the symphonic aspects of the score, which pre-echo the German composers of the coming generations, were most prominent. The orchestra was placed behind and slightly above the stage, and even with flat-screen monitors placed throughout the auditorium there were a few lapses in coordination. It is a pity that the spectacle on the stage, especially at the end of the opera, could not complement the thunderous roar of music produced by the orchestra. For all the strange, striking qualities of this particular Giovanni, it was, in the last resort, a concert of a work that is staged most appropriately in an opera house. spacer


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