I saw this on Thursday 29 January, the second performance of the first cast run of the umpteenth revival of the Francesca Zambello production. I have seen it several times before but never starring Gerald Finley. I have rather mixed feelings about Don Giovanni as a work, not least that it can drag, and is probably a bit long at the best of times.
I had been frustrated last season when Gerald's appearances were limited to a concert version of the Pearl Fishers and starring as Anna Nicole's husband. Pearl Fishers was a dull evening, salvaged only by his performance. As for Anna Nicole, I thought it was a generally well performed (and staged) production of a work I hated musically and story-wise; although I thought Gerald superb, that was in a part where his talents were wasted.
At the end of the evening, I decided that I neither like nor dislike this production. It can be irritating, but it doesn't get in the way of good performances from talented singers. The scenery is hugely annoying, a curved wall that occasionally rotates to different angles to depict different places, and takes up too much of the stage. There is very little imagination in the stage direction of principles and chorus, and barely any notion of something else going on subconsciously. I thoroughly enjoyed the Calixto Bieito production at ENO, which updated to the 20th century and was more explicit in demonstrating Don G's amorality. But perhaps I would tire of it if I had seen it as much as the Zambello.
In some ways, Don G is a thought-provoking opera. However, I think there is a limit to how many new thoughts it can provoke, especially in the twentytenth revival. It's a searingly accurate portrayal of a rich privileged empty character, just as relevant today where rich amorality and a rape culture are celebrated too widely in society. And the bewildering behaviour of Donna Elvira, who knows rationally what an utter piece of s**T Don G is, but remains besotted by him.
My pleasure came from hearing new aspects in the music, which may be due to that particular conductor's interpretation. The conductor was Constantinos Carydis, a youngish conductor I've not previously encountered.
I tried not to read first night reviews before i attended, but got an impression of a lacklustre performance with lacklustre musical interpretations. The performance of the overture rather confirmed this. I've had a previous bad experience when the tempi of the entire opera were dragged out, seemingly to expose every nuance in the score, but at the expense of any sense of a coherent whole. This was not the case here, with the overture being taken at a cheerfully skippy pace that ignored any grand sense of what was to unfold. But generally, I enjoyed the light pace, which moved the action on at a lick. Especially because it wasn't unrelenting. Surprisingly, my lasting memory is of Dalla sua pace, where I discovered that Matthew Polenzani has a gorgeously sweet plangent lyrical voice. No rush in this aria, the orchestra seemed to be playing in sympathy, allowing time to stand still. (Shame that it also inspired some audience members nearby to rustle their sweet papers, presumably following the rule 'This is a quiet bit, not much happens').
Gerald Finley was seemingly effortlessly superb as Don Giovanni. There was one phrase in Deh vieni alla finestra, where he appeared to have tuning and/or straining issues, but it wasn't significant and didn't mar an otherwise smooth seamless performance, vocally and dramatically. At the end, before he is dragged into hell consumed by flames, he removes his top, and I was very impressed by the physique of someone a few years my senior.
I liked Hibla Gerzmava as Donna Anna and Katarina Karnéus as Donna Elvira. Although very different singers, in a sense they can both be described similarly. Often glorious, never horrible singing, threw themselves into the physical aspects of the roles, wouldn't hesitate to hear again, but wouldn't necessarily rush to a performance solely on their account. Irini Kyriakidou and Adam Plachetka were fine if unremarkable as Zerlina and Masetto, although I don't really see the point of casting these lesser roles with unknown overseas singers, rather than emerging British singers. Marco Spotti was unexceptional as the Commendatore.
I was disappointed by Lorenzo Regazzo as Leporello. He simply could not erase memories of Kyle Ketelsen who was superb in this role. I thought I liked him, based on the recording of Le Nozze di Figaro under Rene Jacobs, but I'm not sure i do. To be fair, he wasn't bad, just dull, no presence and little of interest in the voice.
Overall, it was an enjoyable evening, and I'm looking forward to seeing the alternative cast (including Erwin Schrott as the Don). But I think the ROH needs a new more exciting production, and I can't honestly say it was the most memorable performance ever at the ROH. But significantly more enjoyable than certain performances I've been to in the past 18 months or so!
Pictures from Royal Opera House's Facebook page
Backstage on Don Giovanni with Gerald Finley - Flickr set