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In Review > International

Don Giovanni

ANTWERP
Opera Flanders
3/29/15

In Review Antwerp Don Giovanni hdl 615
Christina Carvin, Josef Wagner, Nico Darmanin and Corinne Winters in Guy Joosten's production of Don Giovanni at Opera Flanders
© Opera Vlaanderen/Annemie Augustijns 2015

Don Giovanni (seen Mar. 29) came midway in director Guy Joostens’s Mozart/da Ponte cycle for Opera Flanders this season. It filled the company’s historic Antwerp venue (they also perform in nearby Ghent) with a theatrical energy and a consistent edgy humor that this piece rarely sustains. New last season, the completely recast production offered a bit too much caricatured louche behavior for its own sake, but an interesting dual narrative framework. It transpires at and near the stage door of a modern theater where Don Giovanni has just been performed; spectators, including some groupies of the lead baritone (lankily insouciant Austrian Josef Wagner, clearly a major contender in his generation in this role) came and went. Giovanni, Leperello, Anna, the Commendattore and Ottavio appear first in period costumes, whereas Elvira appears initially in modern dress, clearly seeking out the cause of her visible pregnancy, and Zerlina and Masetto and followers are — rather absurdly stereotypically — dressed as low class urban revelers. Later “onstage” scenes implicate flown-in units (Giovanni summons down flying horses for master and servant to escape at the Act one finale) and the trapdoor.

Promising ensemble member Aylin Sezer made a hot-to-trot Zerlina, singing with earthy allure; she will sing Barbarina this June, the only link among performers in the company’s cycle. In Joostens’ presentation, Anna manipulates Ottavio with sexual promise in direct parallel to Zerlina’s mastery (indeed, domination, with ropes and whips used on him during  “Batti, batti”) over Masetto. He cast both men (mellifluous and stylish Maltese tenor Nico Darmanin, unfairly denied “Dalla sua pace,” and British baritone Toby Girling, displaying far more legato than most Masettos) as cute — they both catch the eye and hands of Leporello, here a leather queen majorly crushed out on his master — but yet evidently lacking in whatever vital quality sets Giovanni apart for the women. Nobody onstage listens to poor Ottavio in “Il mio tesoro”, and he fudges two easy chances to punish Giovanni.

Alexander Joel led a cogent performance marked by subtle textual decoration onstage and sound, sinewy orchestral playing. Corinne Winters’ role and house debut as Anna went very well: not a plush instrument but a properly dark one, with metal in reserve. Striking onstage, she gave recitatives full value and aced her Vengeance aria; the rigorous “Non mi dir,” while satisfactory, awaits its complete technical mastering. Christina Carvin (Elvira) acted incisively but proved consistently astringent on top and short-breathed in runs; skipping “Mi tradì,” normally an affront, was wise. 

Stefan Kocan brought Leporello’s campiness almost to the level of Albin in Cage aux Folles, but gave the most detailed performance I have seen from him. If the mettlesome Slovakian bass could develop a less heavy, more mercurial delivery of recitative and cultivate more dynamic variety, he’d be an even better Leporello — and could clearly pull off Don Giovanni as well. Wagner meanwhile showed fluidity in phrasing and consistent verbal and musical energy to match his stage ease: this Giovanni remains self-entertained to the very end, mockingly enacting being dragged away by demons. Dutch bass Jaco Huijpen sounded properly marmoreal and imposing as the Commendattore, here not a statue but a wheeled-in still-bloody corpse; there’s been a coffin onstage throughout, but it’s used for Giovanni’s incessant pranking. When Giovanni vanishes, color and theatricality leaves the stage— all the survivors are dressed, or partially dressed, in black, and stagehands bring out music stands for the final sextet to be done concert-style. spacer

DAVID SHENGOLD

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