Don Giovanni, Vienna Staatsoper, 22/01/2007

by Larry L. Lash (Opera News)

«The Mozart Year ostensibly ended in December 2006, when concert halls and opera houses were flooded with performances of the Requiem, but the Viennese refuse to accept the death of Austria’s favorite son, turning him into a musical zombie. With barely a pause for Fledermaus and New Year’s Concert season, Vienna’s Staatsoper offered the Wiener Mozart-Tage 2007, a series of performances in the same lackluster productions that dribbled off its stages in January 2006.

In Don Giovanni (seen January 22), the virtually indistinguishable voices of Anna (Ricarda Merbeth), Elvira (Cellia Costea, subbing for indisposed Dorothea Röschmann) and Zerlina (the egregiously unqualified Alexandra Reinprecht) semed cut from the same mediocre cloth. Merbeth forced unpleasantly to indicate rage, Costea burbled the fioritura passages, and Reinprecht chirped her notes without charm or sensuality.

Matthew Polenzani showed a formidable technique and some interesting phrasing in his otherwise wooden, dramatically invisible Don Ottavio.

In-Sung Sim was a gruff, adequate Masetto. Ain Anger woofed the role of the Commendatore.

The requirements for a great Giovanni are in a constant state of flux, but here Bryn Terfel let us down. His rich bass-baritone sounded uncharacteristically colorless, dry and underpowered, with a tendency to croon; his phrasing sounded taxed, his characterization flat and distant. Perhaps this masterful interpreter has outgrown the role, or maybe he was just bored by the fashion show that passes for a production.

Director Roberto de Simone and designers Nicola Rubertelli and Zaira de Vincentiis begin the opera in the Elizabethan period and, scene by scene, advance the action until the opera ends somewhere around the beginning of the twentieth century. Giovanni is timeless, a man for all seasons. We get it! But this leaves little for cast members to do except perform a scene, dash offstage for another costume update, and run back on. At the end Giovanni stands in one place and writhes in a red spotlight.

Peter Schneider delivered the opening chords of the overture as short, sharp shocks, but the performance was marred by an inability to keep the singers on the beat (especially Terfel and Merbeth, who seemed perpetually behind or ahead).

As if visiting from another, happier planet, Erwin Schrott‘s gloriously lusty, lewd, Looney Tunes Leporello ranks among the best I have seen. He sang and acted rings around everyone else, showing a gorgeous, dark, versatile bass. Young, hyperkinetic and hunky, he is a boring singer’s nightmare. Give him a ladder in the Act II sextet and watch the five other singers disappear. Give him an orange to play catch with, a glass of wine to sniff or a purloined chicken leg to savor, and you simply cannot take your eyes off him.»

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