An absolute masterpiece such as Don Giovanni has lent itself from the very moment of its creation to numerous and antithetical interpretations; the central question for performers and listeners is the spirit in which the work is to be approached. The opera concludes with divine retribution for sin, but it also involves the subtlest musical exploration of the comic and tragic motivation for compassion and moral indifference. Who is the most profoundly realized character: Leporello? Donna Elvira? The Commendatore? And what are we to make of Don Giovanni himself? Is he simply a faceless libertine whose real significance is in what others see in him, or is he is some way a tragic protagonist defending his genius against complacent practicality? Or is he an animal rendered obsolescent by civilization? A mediaeval Vice figure, Marlow’s Faust, Brecht’s Baal?
The cast covered the whole spectrum from the excellent to the frankly questionable, such as the Commendatore of Riccardo Ferrari, whose voice lacked the sculpted accent, incisiveness and the steadiness needed to tackle those formidable intervals without smudging them; he did not possess the gravitas required to portray the embodiment of God’s punishment, and his decidedly ridiculous costume did not certainly help. Following a very old and well-grounded tradition, Blagoj Nacoski was a very light voiced Ottavio, even if nowadays a more lyrical and meatier timbre is perhaps preferred. The problem however did not lie so much in the evanescence of his timbre as in his rather shaky technique: he does not make use of the so-called “mask” and excessively relies on a nasal voice production and particularly on throat contractions, which cause a wobble already in the middle register and an adenoidal sound. A throaty voice production also marred the Elvira of Agata Bienkowska, a mezzo-soprano often struggling all throughout her range. The artificial darkening of her timbre suggested a matron with a rather absurd infatuation and her confused diction hindered the delineation of the most interesting –in my opinion – character of the opera, the only one irremediably broken among the survivors. “Mi tradì quell’alma ingrata” showcased several problems including a perilous pitch, clumsy agility and an unreliable top, despite the transposition to D Major, a most censurable choice. Masetto is a minor role that in the right hands can have its own place in the sun, as it happened here thanks to the pleasing timbre and confident stage demeanour of Daniele Piscopo, a young baritone whom I would like to hear in more demanding parts. Lavinia Bini was a fresh, youthful Zerlina, sparkling and slightly impertinent without ever becoming vulgar, and in possess of an admirable control of her voice, no longer impaired by the very tight vibrato which characterized it a few years ago; particularly appreciable was her Act II aria, delivered in something of a hush and meant for Masetto alone. The protagonist, Panajotis Iconomou, undoubtedly has a strong, firm, powerful and agreeable voice as well as a tendency to apply too much force on each syllable, to the detriment of a true legato, something even more undesirable in a role almost exclusively based on declamato and recitative. In the lyric oases such as the Serenade, the German bass baritone (with obvious Greek roots) appropriately lightened the sound, although the pianos and pianissimos he laudably tried to perform did not sound organic and connected from the rest of his vocal structure. In agreement with the general tone of the production, he favoured the comic side of the character: showing very few signs of gentlemanliness, his Giovanni was an ill-mannered cad, who even showed his tongue to his victims while fleeing at the end of Act I; a valid interpretation like any other, after all. Andrea Concetti (Leporello) may not have the most seductive timbre in the world, but he knows how to use his voice with technical expertise and imagination. He portrays a cunning servant in the commedia tradition, with a different face for every situation and yet unified as a character: ironic, disgruntled, and terrified in turn. The Catalogue aria, for example, goes like the wind, almost weightless and yet forceful at once. But the real winner of the evening was beyond a shadow of a doubt soprano Silvia Dalla Benetta, vocally magnificent and dramatically vital. Her soprano is round, homogenous, perfectly equalized with no sign of spread, and rich with overtones; her diction is incisive and her phrasing is very variegated and always appropriated to the situation. “Or sai che l’onore” and the preceding recitative stood out for a vigour that never degenerated into discomposure (so many sopranos forget that Donna Anna is still a member of the high aristocracy), performed respecting every expression mark and even adding some of her own, such as the crescendos from piano to forte on the several As natural of the aria. The great Act II scene was characterized by suave pianissimos (exquisite was the B flat of “abbastanza per te mi parla amore”), good coloratura and very long breaths (highly effective was the absence of a breath between “non vuoi ch’io mora” and the following phrase “Non mi dir”); the only flaw was a missing trill on the G natural in the last phrases of the aria.
Not much can be said about Enrico Castiglione’s production: very traditional and even a bit monotonous, an adjective to be interpreted literally, considering that the sets (formed by the usual columns and stairs, in addition to a wall that appears and disappears to prepare for the following scenes) had only one single colour, red brick.
This Don Giovanni was the first offering of an extraordinarily interesting cultural project conceived by the Teatro Verdi of Pisa for the remainder of this season and throughout 2015 entitled Una gigantesca follia, or DonGiovanniFestival (sic): about thirty events centred on the Don Giovanni myth, including a cycle of conferences, straight plays (Molière, Tirso da Molina) and obviously operas. I would like to list them to give the idea of this immense effort, even more commendable in a time of economic crisis when funds every Italian cultural institution have their funds severely slashed: Giovanni Gazzaniga’s Don Giovanni Tenorio , Alessandro Melani’s L’empio punito, Alessandro Scarlatti’s Il trionfo dell’onore and the versions of The Stone Guest by Alexandr Dargomyžskij, Giacomo Tritto and Giovanni Pacini: a truly striking, probably unprecedented endeavor.
(Photos: Massimo D’Amato, Florence)