Monday, June 27, 2011

London Oxford Cambridge & Berlin


What a week.
On Weds am the FT published my letter about reform of the House of Lords, which has already had positive feedback from some very senior people, and in the evening it was the WCIT banquet at the Guildhall, in the presence of the Lord Mayor, his designated successor David Wooton and their designated successor Fiona Woolf who will only be the 2nd female Lord Mayor in the illustrious history of the office.  The present Lord Mayor is the 756?th holder of this office, which must be something of a record since the very few offices that go back further in history (Emperor of Japan, Pope, what else?) tend to have occupants that stay in office for more than 1 year!  A highlight of the evening for us was meeting a delightful couple based in Cambridge who are heavily involved in the CofE at both a local and national level.

On Thurs I went with a colleague to meet with Bob May and brief him on our latest thinking, then back to London for a client meeting and then to Cambridge to meet with Bela Bollboas and his colleague, finishing up with dinner on High Table, where Amartya was again presiding.

Friday evening I was at an even higher table as I flew to Berlin to see Nicole in Don Giovanni. Came in from the airport by bus which is an interesting way to see a city, esp for the first time. Sat morning I ran from the hotel through the Tiergarten to the Bundestag and then to the Brandeberg Gate.  Sadly I couldn’t go through it because there was some kind of pop concert. However I was able to stop in the Room of Silence by the gate, and pray for the victims of past divisions and for continued peace in Europe.  Worked on Sat and then to the Deutsche Oper.

Musically this was good/very good with Nicole of course being truly outstanding: it was well worth travelling over 1,000 miles to hear her. The Don (Ildebrando d'Arcangelo) was very good, and Anna, Zerlina and Leporello were fine.  Orchestra was OK though not remotely as good as the OAE at Glyndebourne.  However the production was execrable: a prime example of a Director trampling all over the music and words with a Concept, or rather several, some even worse than others.

We start with a not-too-bad idea which is that the Don should have a substantial retinue which adds to the sense that he is indeed a powerful figure and leader of a “gang”. Of course this is conveyed quite effectively in the text by his being a nobleman with a sword, but since it is set in modern dress we can’t have that.  So the entourage all sing Notti Giorni with Leporello – well OK though annoying for Leporello.  But they stay on for the fight and all sing the male parts, which overbalances the trio and makes it dramatically absurd - and of course Giovanni isn’t masked or anything like that.  Then the entourage clubs the Commendatore to death (with golf clubs – a leitmotif of the production) and stay on stage with Elvira, mocking her throughout her aria and the Catalogue song.  So far a bit annoying but apart from the lack of a mask it has some effective moments.  However it obviously creates problems later and greatly reduces Giovanni’s “heroism” since he’s hardly contra mundum.  I was (mildly) interested to see how the Director would solve them.

For Zerlina they keep Mazetto and Elvira on stage while the Don is seducing her, Mazetto being bound and gagged by the Don’s entourage and Elivra being smooched by the Don throughout. So she doesn’t burst in to stop him, she simply pulls herself out from her “erotic obsession” with him.
At the beginning of the changing clothes with Leporello scene the Don strangles a beautiful young girl in white - played by a 12-year-old apparently!  Then because the Director has dressed the Don and Leporello identically they have to produce Nobleman and Servant clothes and play the whole scene, which is really very deep and moving as well as being genuinely funny if played at all well, as a send up in commedia del arte style – further totally undermining Elivria’s character.  For the Do Veni alla Fenestra the strangled girl comes back to life and dances about – trite, stupid and pointless.
The party scene is quite well done, with a rather orgiastic set of flourescent lights and a door with “abandon all hope” over it through which the masked guests have to enter (the trio was sung superbly BTW).  The Don threatens to kill Leporello with a samauri sword but of course Ottavio doesn’t have a pistol – though he gets one later, sheer perversity.  The sense of mayhem at the end is considerable but no-one who didn’t already know the plot would have any real idea of what is going on, or how/why Giovanni escapes.

I really don’t have time to dwell on all the absurdities and travesties of the production. Leporello, who is really quite an interesting and complex character as well as one of the funniest in opera, is made into a thug.  Elviria, who in many ways is the best person in the opera – Ottavio wants justice but she wants to give redemption through love – is made into an obsessive maniac.  Of course the final feast becomes a tableau for a diabolical “last supper” with a dozen slavering disciples, and the stone guest doesn’t appear at all.  Massive special effects of 3 sections of the sage rocking up and down provide the “drama” and the opera stops abruptly with Giovanni’s death. The latter travesty is sadly quite common but musically inexcusable and also dramatically quite wrong – this is more like Shakepeare than Brecht and the finale leads us back into the quotidian world.

What made this all extra-annoying was that there were a good many people in the audience who had never seen Don Giovanni  before. I spoke to 3 couples and they were all in that category – one couple appealed to me to tell them what was going on in the plot because they had no idea: surtitles notwithstanding.

Nicole and the Don had to sign records afterwards so after that we had a quick bite afterwards in the opera cafĂ©, where Nicole was approached by the manager and asked to sign the famous wall.  Sunday I ran again with a somewhat longer route through the Tiergarten, and indeed managed to run through the Brandenberg gate.  Then to a local restaurant for a long leisurely lunch with Nicole, chewing over many ideas both musical and non-musical.

Look out for her Magic Flute in Cincinnati and Chicago later this year.  In March she’s back in the UK for Child of our Time and also next year she’s doing Elvira in Japan.  Please please someone cast her as Elvira at Covent Garden soon – preferably in a production which respects the music and the drama.

I don’t read German well enough to follow the programme notes in detail, but it was fascinating to see a list of all the Don Giovanni plays and operas known to the editors.  This was an incredibly popular theme, indeed there were no fewer than four such operas in 1787 alone, and two in 1784:
It would be very interesting to learn more about the others, and to understand why there was such a craze (there was the Gluck ballet in 1761 and then 2 operas in 1776 and 1777) but at least it explains the slightly odd proper title.

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