Sexy Don is such a slow mover – Don Giovanni (London, ROH, 11-06-2007)

by Fiona Maddocks (thisislondon.co.uk)

«Women beware women. The glamorous Russian soprano, Anna Netrebko, now a top of the world diva league, pulled out of the Royal Opera’s revival of Don Giovanni because of a throat infection.

Her replacement was another Russian, Marina Poplavaskaya, who has all the signs of being an equally huge star.

Tall, blonde and slender with hair down to her waist, this Jette Parker Young Artist has a compelling stage presence and a rich, muscular voice which she projects with no sign of effort.

Only in highest notes was there occasionally a slight silvering of tone.

This was Poplavaskaya’s big break and she dazzled.

She was already due to sing Donna Anna in one performance of Francesca Zambello’s austere staging, with sombre Spanish designs by the late Maria Bjornson and conducted by Ivor Bolton.

Now she will also appear in tomorrow’s BP Big Screen Piazza relay.

Well established in Russia but hardly known here, she has major Tchaikovksy and Verdi roles scheduled with the ROH next season. Take note of the name.

This was a formidable cast all round, with a dream Don Giovanni in Erwin Schrott, the Uruguayan bass who sang Leporello in this production in 2003.

He can do anything with his voice and body -which we saw quite a lot of, and very nice, too -and was ideally paired with Kyle Ketelsen, who himself has sung the title role.

Fittingly, Zambello has master and sidekick looking like twins and even the footmen are Giovanni clones.

Is this a comment on the awful interchangeability of men? Who can say.

Ana Maria Martinez’s desperate Elvira, the wronged woman with all the best music, showed blazing tenacity.

As the young newly weds Masetto and Zerlina, Matthew Rose and Sarah Fox were fiery and argumentative, adding flesh to these sometimes twodimensional roles.

But for all the fine singing, something was awry between stage, pit and podium.

From the start, ensemble was ragged. Recitative was bizarrely stop-start and mannered.

Slow arias, and this opera has a few, seemed all too elastic in length, especially Don Ottavio’s Dalla Sua Pace, which was excruciatingly slow, not saved even by Michael Schade’s elegant delivery.

At times I feared I might expire before the rake himself.

The bright optimism of the D major finale came not a moment too soon.

With a massive injection of speed, all will be well.»

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