Going to hell in style: 'Don Giovanni' in Vienna

AP News
Posted: Mar 08, 2013 8:29 AM
Going to hell in style: 'Don Giovanni' in Vienna

VIENNA (AP) — The tenor wandered off, the corpse didn't rise as planned, and the lead soprano dissed her own performance. But "Don Giovanni" still managed to go to hell in style.

The story of the dissolute nobleman who leaves a path of seduction across Europe before descending into the fiery abyss screaming but unrepentant is Mozart's darkest opera. Comic at the same time, it features some of the most complexly beautiful music ever written for the stage. So, there is little tolerance for mediocrity — and there was none, in Thursday's performance at the Vienna State Opera.

Conductor Louis Langree is masterfully in charge of the music on stage and in the pit, from the first resounding chords of the overture to the crashing waves of the full orchestra as the Don is dragged to his doom. In between, he makes Mozart's intentions his own, focusing on the music to develop the personality of each character in a manner few other composers were capable of.

Vocally, Marina Rebeka delivered her worst performance as Donna Anna since she started singing the role in Vienna in October. Or so she said.

If so, her best must have been stellar because her voice was like molten silver Thursday and her acting admirable in her portrayal of the young noblewoman who swears vengeance after the Don first tries to rape her and then kills her father who tries to protect her.

"I wish I would have felt more static in the air," she said, when asked in her dressing room why she wasn't satisfied. "But that's theater — uncontrollable."

She listed small but jarring things. Tenor Toby Spence moved away at moments she was to have turned to him, leaving her instead to sing to the audience "like a prima donna, which I hate." And she had to mourn her father singing crouched close to the floor after machinery malfunctioned and his corpse did not rise, platform-like.

But only those on stage could have noticed the mishaps and, post-performance, the Latvian soprano laughed heartily as she recounted them.

Things could have been worse. At another time and on another stage, an overweight Don Giovanni got caught in the trap door halfway down, prompting someone in the audience to cry out, "Hell's full!"

Ildar Abdrazakov had no weight problems Thursday as the Don. As a matter of fact, he had no problems whatsoever, portraying Mozart's hero-villain in convincing dramatic and vocal style. His bass was rich and nuanced.

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As Leporello, Erwin Schrott also scored high marks musically. But his acting was humorless, failing to convey the complexity of the buffoon-philosopher that the Don's man-servant is meant to be.

Mozart perennial Veronique Gens was a convincing Donna Elvira, playing the role of the woman betrayed with all the range and technique this role demands. Also good: Spence as Don Ottavio, Donna Anna's betrothed; Sylvia Schwartz as the peasant girl Zerlina; Tae-Joong Yang as Masetto, her fiancée, and Sorin Coliban as a convincingly menacing Il Commendatore, Anna's father, who returns from the dead to pull the Don into perdition.

Director Jean-Louis Martinoty and his crew place the action at the turn of last century but with the pomp and color that even modern-day Italy has to offer.

When "Don Giovanni" was first performed in the Austrian capital nearly 225 years ago, Austrian Emperor Joseph II praised it but found some fault, remarking: "Such music is not meat for the teeth of my Viennese." To which Mozart replied under his breath "Give them time to chew on it."

If someone was chewing in the audience Thursday, it was inaudible. Too much applause.