Get thee to this Don Giovanni!
The first revival of Claus Guth’s dark forest-bound staging at the Staatsoper im Schiller Theater – a transplant from the Salzburg Festival – is nearly as intoxicatingly great as it was when it premiered in 2012. As we wrote then, Guth is one of the best opera directors today and his fresh, clever approach to Regietheater is nothing if not illuminating in a theatrical landscape often marred by inanities excess and unbridled revisionist and deconstructivist tendencies.
The roster remains quite similar to the premiere cast, with a few notable exceptions. Christopher Maltman is quite possibly the finest Don around. He sings with muscular burnished tones, effortlessly full and seductively sculpted. At his side is Adrian Sampetrean, a young Romanian bass who has sang Leporello at Salzburg and here proves a worthy successor to Erwin Schrott, who originated the role two seasons ago, singing with an appropriate combination of earthy lyricism and gruffness, and will enough vocal reserve to mach Maltman in terms of volume and force. Christine Schäfer’s Donna Anna is overall less impressive that Maria Bengtsson’s two seasons ago. Her voice has lost some of its crystalline beauty and ringing force, but she is still a spirited and intelligent singer who knows exactly how to sculpt her phrases. Occasionally one wishes for more legato and a more developed coloratura, but all in all she was highly effective. As she did two seasons ago, Dorothea Röschmann brought down the house as a viper-tonged Elvira. She employed her precise, vibrato-filled mezzo to comic and touching effect, sometimes simultaneously. Rolando Villazon sang an extremely erratic Ottavio, often making the character sound like a mock-Don José. His lower range was occasionally raspy and his neurotic interpretation of the role seemed to influence his somewhat jaunty singing. Smooth, effortlessly agile and supple it was not. Everything here seemed like work. And if his quirky “Dalla sue pace” was less than convincing, his highly emotive and controlled “Il mio tesoro intanto” nearly made up for it. By suggesting that his ridiculous character has unsuspected depth and complexity it turned his odd interpretation of role into an accomplishment of sorts. Anna Prohaska’s seemed to deepen her interpretation of Zerlina in the past season and a half. She sounded maturer, more slyly confident and willing to venture into more complex vocal territory with a low, seductive range than in 2012. Rounding out this tremendous cast were two young Czech basses. As Masetto, Adam Plachetka was an excellent match for Prohaska from a vocal and dramatic standpoint (read: excellent chemistry). Jan Martinik’s Commendatore was appropriately crepuscular and tremulous.
Barenboim led a full and deliberate account of the score that was full of wondrous detail, especially in the winds. Like the production itself, it was often a stern and somber affair, and occasionally one wished for him to pick up the tempo or inject small doses of humor and mischief.