Glorious singing at Glyndebourne new ‘Don Giovanni’
Mozart’s most renowned operas are the three he wrote in the late 1780s to libretti by Lorenzo da Ponte: Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte. Sadly da Ponte’s benefactor, the Habsburg Emperor Joseph II, died in February 1790, bringing the writer’s income to an end and effectively terminating his collaboration with Mozart.
Da Ponte himself moved to London, where he briefly became librettist at the King’s Theatre (now His Majesty’s Theatre) before moving to New York to evade his creditors. There, as a faculty member of newly-founded Columbia University (the first to have been a Roman Catholic priest, and also the first to have been raised a Jew), he produced the first full performance of Don Giovanni in the United States.
One wonders what he might have made of the new Glyndebourne production. Musically he would surely have approved. The late eighteenth century is often referred to as the Age of Enlightenment, and under the very capable baton of the American conductor Evan Rogister (making his Glyndebourne debut), the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment gave the music huge clarity.
Rogister allowed the singers ample space, and the cast, largely Eastern European, were terrific. Andrey Zhilikhovsky, clothed in black shirt and trousers, made an athletic-looking and charismatic Don, singing with great power and command. Here is a man used to telling others what to do. As his long-suffering manservant Leporello, in jacket and tie, Mikhail Timoshenko sang clearly, exhibiting a sense of comedic irony that enhanced the drama.
As a charming Donna Elvira, whose big Act 2 aria was superbly delivered, the Armenian soprano Ruzan Mantashyan seemed almost ready at the end to abandon her beloved Don in favour of Leporello. Quite right too, one might say, in view of the Don’s haughty attitude to Donna Anna (Venera Gimadieva) and her fiancé Don Ottavio (Oleksiy Palchykov), whom he abusively head-butts. A strong Commendatore by Jerzy Butryn, and while Victoria Randem and Michael Mofidian sang well as the young wedding couple Zerlina and Massetto, they and their friends were garishly dressed in frightful pink skirts and electric blue jackets. The friends all seemed to be staying in a hotel hosting hen and stag parties, but thankfully that disappeared in Act 2 along with the frightful party costumes.
Though the setting was defiantly modern, the three masqueraders who try to take revenge on the Don were in eighteenth century wigs and costumes, a nod to the original period of composition. The lighting (lots of small bulbs) did strange things to create different moods, and overall this was a good new production by Mariam Clément, who had earlier staged Don Pasquale, Poliuto and Il turco in Italia for Glyndebourne. It replaces Jonathan Kent’s earlier production, last seen in 2010. What made the evening worth the trip were the vocal contributions, and the glorious tenor voice of the Ukrainian singer Oleksiy Palchykov as Don Ottavio was a revelation — we will surely hear more of him.
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