Sunday, 19 February 2012

A Night at the Opera

I've never written an opera review before. I've never been to the Royal Opera House before, either. I have seen Mozart's Don Giovanni. I've even sung bits of it myself. And I've listened to recordings and watched DVD productions.


Nothing could have quite prepared me for the magic of the Royal Opera House production on Thursday evening. For power, for theatre, for beauty, for music, for well... opera, it was an event hard to beat.

I must confess that, at first, I'd hoped Gerald Finley would've still been singing the title role. But that was due entirely to not ever having heard Erwin Schrott before. Ladies (or others less impressed than I am with a sumptuous, dark chocolate bass-baritone) should be aware that's there's plenty to impress about the Uruguayan singer as well as his voice. Interviewers use such phrases as 'too damned handsome for his own good'; 'electrifyingly sexy'; they refer to his 'gym-toned features' and suggest he could have had a career as a male model if he'd chosen to. Reviewers describe his performance as 'virile, confident, arrogant' and 'bursting with animal sexuality.' All that and a voice to die for, too. Ladies, Google him. Gents, admire from afar. And if you've ever like me aspired to be a singer, curse the fates that dealt this one man all the aces.

Some people think opera is elitist; it's certainly expensive. But the spectacle, the drama and the (un-miked) vocal performances are every bit as exciting as any number of West End musicals. Come to think of it, the ticket prices aren't even that bad when you compare the two. And the tunes - yes, tunes - are so darned good.

If you've not been, don't be put off; don't imagine it's about stuffy oldies frowning above their glasses at anyone who dares to hum along. Or laugh. Or cough. (Although I do hope they threw out the oaf whose nose blowing during the sublime aria O mio tresoro was as loud as an elephant's trumpet.)

But no matter. The opera. Quite simply, one of the best night's at the opera ever. Ok, I could have quibbled with some of the tempi set by the conductor. And - if I'm honest - the famed versatility of the ROH Orchestra wasn't quite all that it could be. And the revival director needs her bottom spanked for insisting that the Don (Schrott) sing the champagne aria while squashed beneath a flight of stairs.

But these are mere bagatelles compared to the bravura singing of Erwin Schrott as the womanising, cheating, murdering Giovanni himself - aided and abetted in his serial seductions and more than matched in vocal quality by his Baldrickesque sidekick, Leporello (Italian Alex Esposito).

The ladies were by turn heart-rending, feisty, passionate and coquettishly seductive as a trio united by their various brushes with the eponymous cad. Poor Donna Anna (Carmela Remigio) - whose failed seduction followed by the murder of her father is what kick starts the action - finds an unlikely ally in Donna Elvira (Ruxandra Donose), the only woman really to love Giovanni and, therefore, the only one he spurns.

But in the eye-flutteringly flirtatious performance of American soprano Kate Lindsay (Zerlina) there's a sense in which the Don might have met his match - if only she weren't being pursued by her fiancé Masetto (Matthew Rose).

The dénouement is one of the most dramatic in all opera (if still requiring a hearty suspension of disbelief) as the murdered Commandatore rises from the grave to secure the retribution that his son-in-law to be Don Ottavio (Pavol Breslik) seems unable to achieve. With flames whose heat we could feel, Don Giovanni is dragged to hell for his misdeeds and the remaining characters sing a rather unnecessary little chorus reminding the audience that a fate worse than death is what literally awaits all who misbehave as he has done.

Or is it? Because in this production as the final curtain falls we catch a brief glimpse of the Don in Hell, the arms of a naked girl wrapped round his neck.

Maybe Giovanni really does have the last laugh and the devil has all the best tunes - as well as the sexiest women.

Either way, it makes one Hell of a Night at the Opera!

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