Saturday, July 18, 2015

Please, Someone, Take the Razor Blades Away from those Folks at Union Ave Opera - A review of Don Giovanni

Warning - this is not a good review - alas. Well I saw this last night and I was quite disappointed, though not surprised as I had been warned. Some of the singers were quite good (Leporello, Masetto, Zerlina, Donna Anna, Donna Elvira were all very strong), but, sorry to say, the conductor was very poor. The tempi were fast, fast, fast.  There was nothing subtle in the musical performance at all – nothing exquisite – nothing profound -  no real beauty at all in this performance.  And the orchestra just sloshed through the whole thing. It didn’t help that, I suppose for financial reasons they could not find the cash to fill out the wind section.  Mozart needs 2 oboes and 2 bassoons and it sounds weird all night without them – especially the wind octets in the last scene!  Il Mio Tesoro was so fast the singer by the end was just singing whatever he could wherever he could to get it in. It was a mess, and it wasn’t the singer’s fault, who I think was quite good and capable of a beautiful performance given better support from the pit.  The electronic harpsichord was tiresome, why not just use a piano?

And really, someone needs to take the razor blades away from those people over at Union Ave Opera. The cuts were outrageous. I lost count around 15 major and minor cuts in the score. Not including all the cuts in the recits these included part of the opening Vendetta duet, Dalle sue pace, a horribly awkward cut in in the act I finale, a section of the act 2 sextet, Leporello's aria, a very odd and awkward cut in the recit before the Commendatore's entrance in the in the graveyard scene and then – (the coup de grace) - the entire final ensemble. Some of these (Dalle sue pace, Leporello's aria) can be excused because of the argument regarding various versions - Prague vs. Vienna - but I do not buy the argument that the cut of the final ensemble was a "draft" of an early version.  I have done some research on this after my experience with the Royal Opera Covet Garden production (ROH) and this is what I learned.  It is not an early draft from Mozart.  It may have been a part of a draft from Da Ponte, but Mozart personally insisted on it and actually created 2 versions of it - one for Prague and one for Vienna. In the 19th century it was cut for time - but in the 20th century it has mostly been restored. Here lately I have had to endure 2 productions without the final ensemble - this one and the ROH. Now, the ROH production I believe cut the final ensemble because it did not fit in with the director's concept of the work. No such excuse here. (I'm not sure I could ever identify a director's concept.) It was cut for time and it ruined the performance for me. It put a cap on a rather frustrating evening musically. The opera needs this final ensemble. We need to close our relationship with the characters and it is quite typical of Mozart to conclude his operas with n Enlightenment moral. Besides, I challenge anyone to name for me an opera by Mozart where the final curtain is dropped to music in a minor key!

So the conductor was terrible and should be kept away from Mozart - the Leporello was terrific and overall I thought the cast was strong. I have seen Gina Gallanti, the Donna Elvira in other operas and she was particularly excellent in this role.  Had all of them had good leadership in the pit this cast could have given us a very beautiful performance. I will say that I did not much like the Don Giovanni but even he might have been better if he had had better support and coaching from the music staff.  A word about the production – I never quite got the point of the living statues who were a part of every scene in the opera.  Now they were terrific.  How hard it must be to stand without moving much for 2 and a half hours.  But, here’s the question – why?  What was the point?  I could see them in a couple scenes and the in the graveyard and the final scene, but at the party?  Did they represent the inevitability of death and retribution?  And why was did the guests at the wedding of Z and M change their costumes to fancier outfits for the act 1 final?  Did the director not notice that DG orders Leporello to take the folks to his home for a party, right then and there?  They didn’t have time to change!  And the uniforms?  Nothing in the libretto suggests any military connection for any of the cast.  I really wonder if this director and conductor bothered to study this opera much.  They seemed to miss so much!  I really feel sorry for the fine cast to have had to endure such poor direction across the board.

So onwards - I expect Rigoletto to be a lot better - and Gotterdammerung will be frustrating because of all the cuts - but I know that going in (but the cast list in the program lists a Waltraute and an Alberich and so I assume at least some of their scenes will be included - alas, no Norns, but that is understandable).

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