Don Giovanni – ROH, 13th June 2007

by Hilary Finch (TimesOnline)

«It hasn’t been seen at the Royal Opera for four years, but Francesca Zambello’s stunningly theatrical production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni is back, and the flames of Hell are as hot as ever. They will certainly be scorching their way through the live big-screen relay in the Covent Garden piazza tonight and flickering across the skyline as the live public screenings take place from Belfast to Birmingham and Bradford.

Duncan Macfarland, directing this second revival, was to have had the starry soprano Anna Netrebko as his Donna Anna. But she has fallen ill and Marina Poplavskaya, the rising young Russian soprano, suddenly finds herself singing the role earlier and for longer than she had expected. Of all Don Giovanni’s 2,065 victims, Donna Anna is the most enigmatic. Just how far does the Don go with her? Was his murder of her father solely responsible for the extraordinary trauma of her music and the eternal procrastination of her marriage?

The long, long hair of Anna and Elvira; the totemic symbols of female subjugation (spinning wheel, cradle, kettle) held high in the wedding scene; the fact that Zerlina turns the tables on Don Giovanni and invites him to her marriage bed: all of these indicate that this production has Things to Say. But Poplavskaya has thought the role through very much for herself. And although, on the first night, there were moments when her voice was not the totally faithful servant of all she wanted to do, this is an entirely thrilling, even blood-chilling, performance.

After the murder of the Commendatore (Reinhard Hagen), her tresses are bound up. And the stillness of her presence, fused with the exquisitely blended tones and half-tones in her soprano, makes her seem to inhabit another reality. As she recreates the horrors of that dreadful night, there’s a weight of agonised grief in every word.

No other performance carries this much presence, though it’s good to have such an emotionally and vocally substantial Don Ottavio in Michael Schade. As Donna Elvira, Ana MarÍa MartÍnez comes fully armed with pistol and musket – and her soprano gleams at the music’s knife-edge. She’s a splendid foil for Donna Anna, and for Sarah Fox’s feisty and tender Zerlina.

And Don Giovanni himself? Well, you will find it difficult to forget the sinuous virility of Erwin Schrott, the Uruguayan bass. There is deliciously liquid melody within his sensuous singing. Not too much brain at work: he’s raw animal energy, and quite the most louche dissolute. His Leporello, Kyle Ketelsen, offers a witty double act. Only Ivor Bolton, conducting incisively if unyieldingly, seems a little out of it, at times confronted by a maelstrom just outside his control.»

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