Don Giovanni – ROH, 13-06-2007

by Tim Ashley (The Guardian)

«The programme for the Royal Opera’s latest revival of Don Giovanni contains a photo of the young Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Its inclusion tacitly underscores the point that the opera world now has a Brando of its own in the form of Uruguayan bass Erwin Schrott, who gives what is probably the most completely realised performance of the title role you are ever likely to see. The final image of Francesca Zambello’s production hints, albeit inauthentically, that the Don’s iconic sexuality has the power to subvert even hell itself, and for once, we are forced to acknowledge the ironic truth of her vision.

Prowling the stage like some feral, sensual animal, and singing with phenomenal grace, Schrott‘s Don is a self-assured, guiltless immoralist who sweeps through the opera like some uncontrollable force of nature, instigating conflicts between desire, morality and reason in everyone he encounters. Kyle Ketelsen’s Leporello – almost, but not quite, Schrott’s doppelganger – eyes both his master’s body and conquests with embittered envy. Sarah Fox’s Zerlina initially can’t wait to get him into bed, but is also the first to understand the potential for catastrophe that his sexuality represents. Elvira (Ana Maria Martinez) is clearly sliding towards derangement, while Anna (Marina Poplavskaya, replacing the indisposed Anna Netrebko) retreats, gradually and majestically, into emotional isolation. Only Michael Schade’s Ottavio – a rationalist prig down to his fingertips – remains hopelessly oblivious to the Don’s impact on everything around him. Crucially, one understands why Anna can never return to him, even though her encounter with the Don has entirely destroyed her universe.

Not all of it works. Zambello’s hi-tech hellfire pyrotechnics are still noisily intrusive, and her relentless deployment of images of Catholic guilt and folksy superstition – to delineate the moral worlds of aristocracy and peasantry, respectively – is excessive. Away from Schrott, there are also musical inequalities. Schade is past his best and Fox sounds tentative. Martinez, on the other hand, manages to make Zambello’s eccentric take on Elvira entirely convincing, while Poplavskaya, who has done nothing finer, immaculately suggests the trauma behind Anna’s hauteur. Ivor Bolton’s conducting is gracious and fiery, if occasionally imprecise when it comes to ensemble. It is ultimately Schrott’s night, though. Go and see him in it – you won’t ever forget him if you do.»

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