The charmer and the psychopath – Don Giovanni (London, ROH, 11-06-2007)

by Rupert Christiansen (Telegraph)

«Erwin Schrott is the most sardonic, seductive, witty and mercurial Don Giovanni I have ever seen.

This hugely gifted Uruguayan bass oozes sex appeal, but he doesn’t just preen his good looks and firm pecs – this is a subtle and thoughtful characterisation of an insouciantly self-centred aristocrat, sung with clarity and sensitivity.

His comic timing was immaculate, the champagne aria fizzed, the serenade melted, and he was dragged down to hell with splendid heroic defiance. An enthralling star turn.

The evening’s other big attraction was the over-hyped Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, who cried off sick.

She was replaced as Donna Anna by the Royal Opera’s resident apprentice, Marina Poplavskaya, who gave an intense but wayward and nervous performance – sometimes thrilling, sometimes off-pitch.

Hers is clearly a potentially major talent, but Mozart is not, I think, her bag. I want to hear her sweep through Verdi or Tchaikovsky.

Kyle Ketelsen, a plausible physical double for his master, made a highly sympathetic Leporello, Anna Maria Martinez was a spunky, vibrant Donna Elvira, Michael Schade sang both Ottavio’s arias with great elegance, and for once the oaf Masetto (Matthew Rose, excellent) had the upper hand over his straying Zerlina (Sarah Fox, insipid).

Ivor Bolton, a conductor now much better known in Europe than he is here, returned to Covent Garden after nine years to deliver a half-way authentic reading with plenty of vigour, and Francesca Zambello’s showbizzy production came up looking spruce and lively in Duncan Macfarland’s revival.

One of the better offerings of the Royal Opera’s fluctuating current season.

At the Sage, Gateshead, a leaner, meaner version was directed by a great Don Giovanni of the previous generation, Sir Thomas Allen. Using only the concert platform, simple costuming and some lighting effects, Allen’s lucid, uncluttered staging hit the heart of the matter.

Making a striking debut in the title-role, Christopher Maltman presents a sadistic psychopath of an anti-hero, the polar opposite of Schrott’s charmer. Maltman enunciates the text crisply and sings purposefully. The arias still need a bit of polishing, but all the makings of a distinguished interpretation were in evidence.

He is well supported by Lisa Milne, singing her first Elvira, and an accomplished young cast notable for Kate Valentine’s spirited Anna and Marc Labonnette’s endearing Leporello. Thomas Zehetmair’s taut and forceful conducting of the Northern Sinfonia underpinned a vivid and enjoyable performance which deserved a larger audience.»

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