The performances of Don Giovanni and Alceste take place in the courtyard.
Posted by Alexander Neef / in Travel / comments (0) / permalink
Each time I encounter this wonderful piece in a new interpretation I am caught by surprise how little I seem to have known about it before and how endless the riches are to be found in Lorenzo da Ponte's libretto and Mozart's wonderful score. Don Giovanni is one of the very fews operas I wouldn't be able to recommend one reference recording for. The more recordings of the piece you can get to know and the more different stagings you can see the better. There always is something new to be found.
Yesterday's opening here in Aix was yet another one of these wonderful encounters. Ever since I saw a DVD of his staging of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin a few years ago I have considered Dmitri Tcherniakov a genius director. His production has been shown all over the world, from the Bolshoi to Paris and La Scala. It has been released commercially and is the modern reference now. If you love Tchaikovsky's opera you have to see it. I believe his new production of Don Giovanni (which the COC has co-produced with the Festival in Aix-en-Provence, the Teatro Real in Madrid and the Bolshoi in Moscow) is of similar importance and, in a few years from now, will be considered a milestone in the interpretation of Mozart/da Ponte's "opera of operas" (as Wagner called it). How Tcherniakov reads the piece and explores the questions "Who is Don Giovanni, what is his relationship with the other characters in the opera, why does he have so much power over them, why does he fail in the end?" reveals the piece's subtexts and the characters' true feelings in a truly remarkable way. There were moments throughout the performance when I thought "This is so right, why have I never thought of this before?". But Tcherniakov not only is an intelligent reader and interpreter, he also is a brilliant craftsman, a director who gets the most intense performances from his cast of outstanding singing actors. Visceral theatricality combined with a highly intelligent reading of the opera makes this production so unforgettable for me. I am proud that we will be able to bring this production to Toronto in a few years from now.
Between my jetlag and the open-air performances here in Aix which start around 9:30 or 10:00pm and end after 1:00am I'm in some kind of a time limbo again. At least, going to sleep so late doesn't make my mornings very productive, especially because returning from a great performance I'm not tired usually and have to spend some time reading (Jeffrey Eugenides: The Virgin Suicides) before I can put myself to sleep.
Yesterday evening was one of these performances that send you out in the night so enchanted that sleep really isn't an immediate option. It certainly was the most wonderful performance of Gluck's Alceste I've seen so far (actually, it was the dress rehearsal for a new production). It is a difficult piece to pull off because there really isn't a lot of dramatic action, rather a series of noble sufferings and sacrifice. Director Christoph Loy found compelling images and got very intense and detailed acting from the singers achieving a great theatrical density and credibility for the whole evening.
Very different from last year's production in Santa Fe it was much more of a period approach with the excellent Freiburger Barockorchester in the pit (on period instruments) and Véronique Gens as a rather lyric title heroine compared to Christine Brewer's full dramatic soprano in Santa Fe. Both approaches are certainly valid, but what made Gens' interpretation so special was the fragility she brought to the role together with absolutely perfect French diction and the exemplary style of her singing. A truly great and moving accomplishment. She was helped to a great degree by Ivor Bolton's unbelievably sensitive and caring conducting. He, the orchestra and the singers on stage seemed to be just one single breathing organism. In his hands, the flow of the music seemed so natural and compelling that I didn't feel the time go by. The role of Alceste's husband Admète was sung by the former COC Ensemble Studio member Joseph Kaiser with truly regal allure, beautiful tone and perfect French. I am glad he will be coming back to the COC.
A great night for Gluck. This afternoon, I will attend the dress rehearsal of "our" Nightingale and tonight is the opening of Don Giovanni. Happy Canada Day to you!
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