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CLASSICAL  June 2007

CLASSICAL June 2007

Subject:

Eight Big Voices in Search of Mozart

From:

Janos Gereben <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 3 Jun 2007 00:45:52 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (59 lines)

At tonight's opening still a diamond-in-the-rough, San Francisco Opera's
new production of "Don Giovanni" may well become a coveted gem during
the remaining seven performances through June 30.

The promise is evident in sensational voices and occasionally superb
music direction by Donald Runnicles, combined with David McVicar's dark
and intriguing production, Leah Hausman's vigorous and intelligent stage
direction.

Tonight's reality, however, was more shaded, against challenging
circumstances self-inflicted by the Opera administration.  This is one
of Mozart's great ensemble works, and replacing one of the principal
singers 72 hours before the premiere is asking for trouble.  Soprano
Elza van den Heever met that impossible three-day rush in a heroic
fashion, but unfortunately, that adjective does not fit the character
or voice of Donna Anna.

Van den Heever's huge sound came from the world of Fidelio or of the
Valkyries, not from the distraught, anguished Mozart heroine-without-heroism.
Not only was the soprano's voice overlarge and changeable, with a Wagnerian
edge at times turning shrill, but it threw off the ensemble, especially
against the thrillingly elegant, quietly sung Don Ottavio of Charles
Castronovo.  So eager was she to impress that, in spite of her seemingly
boundless power, van den Heever failed to space herself sufficiently in
"Or sai chi l'onore" and struggled to finish the aria.

Wanton heroism was a larger problem in all singing and the sound from
the orchestra, frequently veering from precise and sparkling Mozartean
classicism into full-blooded verismo.  Both the marvelous Mariusz Kwiecien
in the title role and his vocal-dramatic equal Oren Gradus as Leporello
could have been singing Verdi duets - and at times it almost sounded as
if they did.  Ditto for Luca Pisaroni's unusually powerful vocal and
dramatic presence as Masetto.  (Kudos to Hausman for making the servants
stand up to the masters, true to the often thwarted intentions of Mozart
and librettist Lorenzo da Ponte.)

"Mozartean" in no way means meek or enervated - Kwiecien's (and the whole
production's) physicality, bordering on animalism, serves the work well,
but it would be even more effective against a restrained musical
counterpoint.

Twyla Robinson's Donna Elvira fit well into the ensemble and sounded
well in solos (except for struggling in "Mi tradi quell'alma ingrata"),
and she handled the role's difficult dramatic requirements.  Claudia
Mahnke's Zerlina was flawless and appealing., Kristinn Sigmundsson's
Commendatore presented this remarkable bass' usual combination of power
and sensitivity.  Jennifer Tipton's (lack of) lighting may indicate the
Opera going green with a vengeance; it was certainly carbon-neutral,
visibility be damned.

Janos Gereben/SF
www.sfcv.org
[log in to unmask]

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