Francesca Zambello’s 2002 staging of Don Giovanni has been revived more frequently than most. Have passed on the opportunity to see it the last few times, but a coincidence of price cuts and the chance to see Erwin Schrott strut his stuff was good enough to lure me. The staging (if you haven’t heard already) is tasteless, full of vulgar catholic kitsch with a certain propensity to grand gestures in the last 10 mins of each act. The only Coups de Théâtre being the use of the revolve, some fire and a dangling hand pretty much summarises its banality.
Messrs Schrott and Esposito were pretty much covered in glory, despite the directing which is too frequently anchoring the singers at centre stage, encouraging more a stand and deliver attitude than acting and a more natural delivery. They clearly worked well together and bounced off each other’s energy…despite getting at times too carried away and almost reaching carry on movie territory. But so much enthusiasm at least stops us from looking at all the awful crucifixes just behind.They managed to bring their characters to life and with a high calibre of singing throughout. Breslik also sang with assurance and style, adding charisma and spark to Don Ottavio’s pretty mundane part in the proceedings. Hagen was very stylish despite the breakneck speed of the conducting which robbed him of his true dramatic momentum.
The unfortunate low point of the evening was the three women. Donna Anna was passable but the wooly sound and the out of control vibrato marred Non mi Dir which should really be a show stopper, even in this pedestrian production. Our Donna Elvira was not in much better shape struggling to be heard at times and despite the convincing acting the vocal finesse was lacking. Her Mi tradi quell’alma ingrata was far from definitive, failing to create the moment of emotional release needed. As for Zerlina, if this was a competition for a beautiful blonde girl in a dress she would have won, but unfortunately singing was required and her hard timbre was frequently unpleasant to listen to.
Unfortunately Carydis was back at the helm (he was replaced on the previous performance, due to sickness) and gave us a flat and bizarrely dispassionate reading of the overture which was a let down, with little variation in speed or colouring. His conducting did improve a bit, allowing for some beautiful lyricism to come out. But he doesn’t strike me as a singer friendly conductor, as quite a few times they were left to fend for themselves, out of breath and not getting much attention from the pit. I would go to the extreme of preferring a pre-recorded accompaniment (I know…I know) than such a terrible live orchestra that paid little attention to Mozart’s exquisite score and the performers on stage.
And a special mention for the audience, which was one of the worst I’ve ever experienced at Covent Garden. The coughs of one person with what sounded like developed bronchitis two rows behind me. The incessant clapping in inappropriate moments made the evening feel like a game show, if you get annoyed with clapping at bel canto performances this was 90 times more irritating. And to top it all off, a group behind us who had no volume control kept chatting during the performance. I’ve surely been to pantos with better audiences than this. Such a shame.
PS Veronique Gens and other sources have confirmed that this was the last outing of this substandard production. We are due a brand new one for 2014, hurray!