I have misgivings aplenty about the production. About the singing, I have practically none. After all, this Don Giovanni is a bit of a mini-smorgasbord for me. Regular readers will no doubt be familiar with my, shall we say, enthusiasm for both Rachelle Durkin and Joshua Bloom. Putting them together is casting brilliance and makes the Anna/Giovanni/Leporello trio at the beginning such a treat.
First things first, however — the Don himself. Gabor Bretz has worked his way up through the Don Giovanni baritone hierarchy, singing Masetto and Leporello before graduating to the title role. Thanks to the wonder of modern technology, you can see clips of him in the role here. His big, sonorous voice mingles expressive warmth with a hint of danger. He's not a particularly elegant or subtle Giovanni, but that's not what this production demands; certainly I had the sense that he could pull off a more charismatic characterisation if required.
Joshua Bloom is predictably ideal as Leporello — I expected nothing less. He's so effortlessly appealing and so funny on stage that you don't quite expect such a majestic flood of sound; he's a comic foil with one hell of a voice. I am not the only person to say that if his Giovanni was even slightly weaker, Joshua's Leporello would completely steal his limelight. Actually, because I am actually just a mad fangirl who occasionally masquerades as a grown-up critic, I think he does steal it. This role and this production don't allow him to be as outrageously entertaining as in La Cenerentola, but he adapts and adjusts and maintains his charm.
During my Alcina frenzy, I christened Rachelle Durkin "Terrifying Rachelle" but that epithet doesn't really apply here. She's Something Else Rachelle and I'm still not certain what, which probably means I'll have to go and see it a third time. Something Else Good, though. Anyway, her singing is ferocious and fabulous. I LOVE this voice. I may have mentioned that. I love the icy sheen of it, and the way it slices so easily through the thickest of ensembles. You can always hear Rachelle, and you can always tell it's Rachelle. I also enjoy the way that, without self indulgence, she allows her voice to be beautiful and spectacular, taking glorious advantage of the parts of Donna Anna's music which really show it off. Not only can she sing the ferocious coloratura, she really seems to enjoy it, which just adds to the thrill. She's soignée and understated (while dangerously repressed) as Anna. There are times, I confess, when I don't find her characterisation wholly convincing; she seems uncertain and a bit unfocused. But this could just be me, and it could also just be opening night nerves, because she made more sense to me last night. I do get the feeling, though, that maybe fantastical sorceresses like Alcina and Armida are a better temperamental fit for her than mere mortals. Which is fine with me.
But the big revelation is Catherine Carby! Who gets an exclamation mark because right now, I can't say her name without exclaiming. There are moments when she's a shade underpowered for the role but she's so fiercely committed it completely doesn't matter; and when she gets to "Mi tradi", "underpowered" goes out the window anyway. She inhabits her role more fully than almost anyone; she's definitely the most believable of the three women. Somehow, she manages to be totally nuts and ridiculous without becoming just plain laughable — she's absurb but human. Her handling of the recitative is thrillingly nuanced, her arias are full of rage but still silver-toned and beautiful. And that "Mi tradi"... it's spectacular, and devastating. I am also full of admiration for her ability to sing impeccably in her final scene while being shunted back and forth by Leporello and Giovanni on a wheeled table, her legs humiliatingly spread. I'm amazed. What I saw in Carmen gave no hint that Catherine! was capable of such riveting theatre, or of throwing herself so completely into the music.
Mocking Don Ottavio is old hat by now, so I'll try to resist. Henry Choo at least doesn't try to make him seem anything other than ineffectual, and the staging makes an explicit point of his stunted emotional growth. One of Giovanni's bunny girls (yes, there are bunny girls) does her best to entice him with her contortions, but to no avail. His relationship with Donna Anna makes no sense at all; it must be a Prudent Match because they act like near strangers most of the time. Anyway he sounds lovely, as he always does, and as befits Ottavio; and his light, lyrical tenor seemed to be packing a bit more punch than usual, which is a welcome development.
Amy Wilkinson sings brightly and sweetly as Zerlina and plays her as a daft tart. I've never liked Zerlina, and such a vacuous characterisation certainly doesn't help, but that's just my prejudice; objectively Amy makes a very good Zerlina and (I mean this as a compliment) a very convincing daft tart. She is, thank the heavens, a proper lyric soprano and not a twee soubrette. Her Masetto is Richard Alexander, whose solid singing gives no cause for complaint but is on the generic side; not entirely his fault, though, since neither the opera nor its direction offer much help in this.
I'm madly in love with this opera, so it makes me very happy to have such a uniformly enjoyable cast. Not a single singer I don't want to hear. And I'm enjoying Mikhail Agrest's slightly fast and furious take on the score. The orchestra sounds good. I bet they'd sound even better if they weren't buried in that cavern. I also have to say, in the interests of fairness — whatever disagreements I might have with Elke Neidhardt, I really do believe that she has a genuine love of, and reverence for, the music. Her ideas about how one ought and oughtn't present the stage action might be questionable, but I think her respect for the music is sincere.