Archive for the ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’ Category

Spectacle Upstages Drama in TDO’s Don Giovanni
October 24, 2010

The Dallas Opera
Friday, October 22, 2010
7:30 p.m.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Don Giovanni

Nicolae Moldoveanu, conductor

Don Giovanni seemed like a perfect choice to open the Dallas Opera’s second season in its new home, the still new and stunning Winspear. Mozart’s masterpiece is a plenitude of human expression, reaching comic highs and tragic lows, exploring inexhaustible lust and selfless love, celebrating hubris and moral didacticism. All of these contradictory but essential human experiences are not only in the story and the libretto, but in the music.

The Dallas Opera’s production gave only a one-sided view.

As the overture began, the curtain rose to reveal Don Giovanni with arms upraised amid a swarm of dancers representing the souls of the women he had seduced, wearing short, white, wispy dresses. The activity on stage detracted from the orchestra. An overture tells the story of the opera in music by introducing the themes to the audience. The overture of Don Giovanni is immaculate, but the premature action on stage turned the prestige of the opera into a mere trick.

The characters were oversexed, especially Zerlina and Masetto who ought to be a chaste, pastoral couple. Without their naïveté, there is no contrast to make Don Giovanni’s lasciviousness meaningful.

The libretto allows for double entendre, especially in “Vedrai carino,” when Zerlina offers her special balm to a wounded Masetto — “feel it beating, touch me here” — but with his hand up her dress, the playful words are flattened into a single meaning.

Moments before, the shenanigans on stage doubled a word’s meaning into an unintended bawdy exclamation, misleading the audience. When Don Giovanni (disguised as his manservant Leporello) reveals himself and beats Masetto for his plans to kill Don Giovanni, he kicks Masetto in the groin. Masetto cries out “la testa mia” (“my head”), but the audience hears something else. Clever, perhaps, but once again, the movement on stage acts as a substitute for the brilliant artistry of the music…

…and the singing. Paulo Szot as Don Giovanni was energetic and entertaining. Morris Robinson as the Commendatore was literally bigger than life. Claire Rutter as Donna Anna was solid in “Or sai chi l’onore.” But no one came to the forefront as the prize singer.

The one-sided interpretation confused the audience concerning the plot. After Hell swallows up Don Giovanni, the audience clapped as if the opera were over, some people even standing up and leaving.

The preference for spectacle on stage over drama in Mozart’s music prepared the audience for the anti-hero ending. At least they could have been bold and cut the moralizing epilogue like the Romantics.

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Mozart Is Not Postmodern
February 26, 2010

The Dallas Opera
Friday, February 12, 2010
7:30 p.m.

Graeme Jenkins, conductor

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Così Fan Tutte

Too much time has passed for me to make accurate comments about the performance on opening night of Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte, the Dallas Opera’s second production of its inaugural year in the new Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House. Some general comments:

Compared to the drab, industrial, mono-tone grey set for Verdi’s Otello, the first production, the set for Così Fan Tutte was not only more appealing aesthetically, it was thematically clever. The curtain rose to reveal a casino scene, gamblers gathered around the roulette wheel, with none other than Don Alfonso sitting at the head–a fitting symbol of his role as the puppet master who schemes situations to prove all women’s infidelity. He strengthens two young men’s loves for their respective fiancées by demonstrating the value of suspicion.

Nuccia Focile was the best all around singer and gave the most entertaining performance as a playful and whimsical Despina. During intermission, patrons enjoyed a rare downtown Dallas snow scene through the Winspear’s monumental glass walls.

Graeme Jenkins continues to impress us with solid conducting. Not only did he lead the orchestra, but he played the harpsichord continuo for the recitatives–a skilled performance with fluid transitions between the roles.

What was not impressive was the blurb advertising Così Fan Tutte on the Dallas Opera website. The description reads:

This poignant romantic comedy explores the mysteries of the heart with the aid of four attractive young lovers, a crafty maidservant and a jaded man of the world. Filled with timeless lessons about life, love and temptation; in many ways, this is Mozart at his most touching and his most postmodern.

Postmodern? What moron wrote this? The term is anachronistically applied to a composer whose music is the pinnacle of the Classical period. While a critic can take a postmodern approach to works of art before 1960, the work itself can be postmodern only if it falls within the historical bounds of the so-called “postmodern era.”

What is worse, the description of the opera as postmodern is a mangling of the essence of Così Fan Tutte. Mozart’s opera is a love story that coheres to the conventions of its time regarding class and gender, with a moralizing ending: women ought to remain faithful to their husbands. And blurb writers should remain faithful to their objects of description.

Set and Costumes Louder than Music in SMU’s Spring Semester Opera
February 9, 2010

SMU’s Meadows Opera Theatre
Saturday, February 6
8:00 p.m.

Mozart – Il Re Pastore

Hank Hammett, director
Paul Phillips, conductor

At Southern Methodist University, the Meadows Opera Theatre production of Il Re Pastore, or The Shepherd King, was something of a cerberus. The three heads of the set, the costumes, and the blocking were all vying for the audience’s attention. One would expect “music” to be in the running since it is ostensibly the most important part of an opera. The set and costumes, however, were so loud, I had a hard time hearing the music at times.

The set was intentionally laughable. A big-faced sun with his sixty-plus foot sun beams and his cloud-smiling friends dominated the stage. The style was a humorous yet disturbing mixture of anime and Don Hertzfeldt cartoons. The bushes created silhouettes similar to the pointy, fiery hair of the characters from Aaron McGruder’s comic strip / animated-cartoon The Boondocks. The sheep props were cute and earned a well-deserved laugh, especially when they returned at the end wearing crowns like their former shepherd now king.

Aminta, the shepherd king, was dressed like Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood wearing a neon orange construction-site hazard vest. Alessandro wore a similarly unlikely fire truck red, double-breasted suit with red shoes. While Agenore wore a tamer grey suit, it was highlighted by Malvolio socks and matching yellow bow tie. Elisa’s costume, however, took first place in silliness: tights and two thin layered tops in blue, green, and purple pastels. The costumes would have successfully matched the surreal set, but Tamiri dressed in period throwing the bizarre atmosphere into contradiction with itself.

Ever Mr. Hammet’s favorite, Ms. Donasco took the lead role as Aminta (originally cast for castrato, for those confused about the gender). She was relatively staid compared to the over-acting we’ve seen from her in the past. She left the stage antics to Ms. Galka (Elisa) and Mr. De León (Alessandro). The former flitted about confusing Elisa’s love for Aminta with seductive flirting; the latter reduced Alexander the Great to a self-absorbed metro-sexual buffoon.

…and there was music, too. Mr. Phillips was, as always, solid and sensitive, despite the dull dry acoustics of Bob Hope Theatre. Ms. Donasco’s “Aer tranquillo” was excellent, and her duet with Ms. Galka to end Act I was another treat. Mr. De León sometimes lacked the rhythmic fortitude to push through Mozart’s devilish sixteenth-note runs and turns, but his addition of a pause in one or two key moments showed an otherwise respectable musicality.

For the production, the voice of note was Ms. Galka’s, whose clarity made her arias ring, particularly the opening to Act II, “Barbaro! oh Dio mi vedi divisa dal mio ben.” As one of only two undergraduate students and the youngest singer to land a role, let’s watch for her in the future.