October 30, 2011

Return of the Knitting Lady


Which is to say I went to see the Met Live DON GIOVANNI this evening.*

            This is a good one.  If you have a chance to see it—and have some idea what you’re getting into**—by all means go.  There’ll be a repeat some time soon so check your bowling alley’s special events schedule.***  The sets are a bit lame but not, I feel, obtrusively so, and the singing—and acting!—are excellent.†  I have some niggles—Luca Pisaroni as Leporello, for example, while he clearly inhabits the role, might be told that sometimes less is more.  Yes, good comic timing, got it, now lighten up.  And while I don’t think there’s anything much that can be done with Donna Anna, who is written as a wet, Marina Rebeka, while she has a lovely voice, is really very wet indeed.

            Although that brings us to the usual Mozartian conundrum, which is that so many of his characters are appallingThere isn’t a single person to like in DON GIOVANNI although some of them are very repellent and some of them only tending that way.  One of the things I really liked about this staging and performance however is that there was no nonsense about the Don being a lovable rogue:  he’s not, he’s a total prick.  I’ve always had trouble with the he’s-just-a-bit-of-a-lad-nudge-nudge-wink-wink standard characterisations I’ve seen previously;  and to my eye and ear, Kwiecien has the voice and the charisma to bring the character off as toxic pond scum and not lose the plot of the Don as the great seducer. 

           There were nonetheless at least two surprises in the characterisation.  I wouldn’t have said it was possible to make Don Ottavio, who matches his sweetheart Anna for wetness, sympathetic, but Ramon Vargas brings it off, by just, somehow, playing it straight.  He has two†† big famous arias about how much he loves Anna and how his happiness is dependent on hers, blah blah blah blah blah.  And he turns to the audience and sings this awful drivel with this simple sweet openness††† that makes you—plus, that is, the ravishingness of his voice—go ‘awwwwww’ and get all melty and think that really she doesn’t appreciate him.‡

            The other surprise is how appealing Zerlina is.  Come on, girl, you don’t really think the Don is going to marry you, do you?  Get a grip.  But you see her being dazzled half against her will—and she’d like to believe it, and with that nasty piece of work she is marrying I can’t blame her.  Aside from the near-slapstick of Leporello, and the bad-joke mania of Elvira‡‡, there is surprisingly little real humour in GIOVANNI—not surprising when you think what it’s about‡‡‡, but the lovable-rogue nonsense confuses the issue.  Zerlina, here, has a pretty lightness and brightness to her, in a story that can really use some.§

            Oh, and the Commendatore is painted an impressively creepy blue-grey when he comes on at the end to dispatch the Don.  This scene was also done very well:  in the lovable-rogue versions, much is made of the Don’s courage in the face of what he knows perfectly well is death and damnation.  Here, it’s less about courage than that he is mean, petty, and self-absorbed to the bitter end.  Outta here, Don.  Elvira is still manic and Anna is still rebuffing Ottavio, but that’s a Mozart opera for you.  But you go for the music.

            Go for the music. 

* * *

* For anyone who’s counting, yes, I missed ANNA BOLENA a fortnight or so ago.   I’m getting more and more mail asking about how I cope with ME, so here’s a little tangent on that.  Even going to a cinema opera—far less threatening (and expensive) than the live variety—and sitting slumped in your chair for a few hours is surprisingly tiring.^  Attention is tiring, and there’s also the superfluous nonsense of getting there and home again.  One of my bottom lines, which I’ve mentioned here many times, is that driving a car is very draining because of that constant, hyper-aware attention that you have to expend every microsecond you’re behind the wheel.  There are buses^^—Peter uses the buses a lot—but they aren’t much use for evening things.^^^  So my going to the relatively local Met Live requires factoring in driving both ways.  This means having the physical energy and a low enough level of brain-fog to drive and to sit through several hours of opera.  The two categories are related, but they can be perversely divided and divisive and must be monitored independently.  And then there’s pain.  Generally speaking the level of pain I deal with is pretty minimal, especially in comparison to other people with ME and, especially, fibromyalgia—but I’m not too good at sitting still.  It’s one of the little ironies of ME that the tireder and more ME-slugged you are, the more you ache—so the days when you really cannot move . . . you have to.  Gah.  Severity is again related to energy and brain-fog but is its own self-determining little ratbag.  A fortnight ago the physical energy was borderline, the brain-fog not too bad . . . but I was pretty sure the sitting still would do me in, and I wasn’t expiring of longing to see Anna Netrebko as Anna Bolena, so I gave it a miss.  Now I was at least half expiring of longing to see Mariusz Kwiecien# as the wicked Don, so I was going to go today barring bubonic measles, boiling tigers or the unwelcome re-emergence of R’lyeh from the bottom of the briny.  As it happens today is the first day since Darkness fell spectacularly ill the end of last week## that I’ve felt relatively okay myself, although I knew this okayness was pretty frelling shallow.

            I thought tonight was worth the risk.  And it was.  But the sitting-still was a near frangledabbing thing.  Good job I had an aisle seat.### 

^ This is assuming you like opera, that going is something you want to do. 

^^ Fewer and fewer buses, but that’s another issue. 

^^^ They’re also no use for going to my voice lesson.  It would be an all-day epic by bus. 

# GAH . . . Who does not seem to have his own web site and is not all over YouTube.  But here’s a clip from the DON PASQUALE last year that he was such a cutie in.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hd8s265bpGo&feature=related

                There are one or two clips of this DON GIOVANNI already up, but they’re really dark, which is one of the drawbacks of this staging, it is dark. 

## He has clearly forgotten all about it.  Which makes one of us. 

### Self-medication with the complimentary glass of fizz is good too.

** The wicked Don is not my idea of a good first opera, non-stop fabulous Mozart tunes or no.^ 

^ The fabulous Mozart opera for beginners is MARRIAGE OF FIGARO.  

*** The one with the screen in the back room 

† I also want Donna Elvira’s dress. 

†† I think it’s two.  It’s late, and I’m falling asleep. 

††† The fact that you’re aware that every hemidemisemiquaver is calculated is beside the point, when it’s calculated this well. 

‡ Everybody in this opera is a raving dysfunctional of one sort or another.  There’s the sex-addict titular character, who brags about doing ten peasant girls in a single night.  There’s the co-dependent self-victimising servant Leporello.  There’s the vindictive harpy ex-girlfriend whose life has been reduced to a single burning desire either to get Giovanni back or to tear his heart out.  And there’s the wet, who is going to claim rape if anyone pursues the question too closely, but who is peculiarly fixated on the man who, having ravished her (or not), killed her dad;  and whose somewhat equivocal grief is nonetheless extremely useful for putting off her fiancé.  There is also the peasant bride who is rather too eager to listen to the Don’s clearly bullfeathers blandishments, and her peasant husband, who is stupid and a thug.  Those two are going to have a really happy life together. 

‡‡ Feminists beware.  I can just about cope with Elvira, however.  The poor old Queen of the Night, not so much.  And don’t even talk to me about Cosi Fan Tutte.  

‡‡‡ Rapist-murderer who has got away with it for so long because he’s a wealthy nobleman finally sent to hell by the ghost of the man said good citizen killed for daring to come after him for ravishing his daughter.  Nice. 

§ After Leporello, disguised as Giovanni, beats Masetto up, and Zerlina has found him and is saying there, there, sweetie, where does it hurt, he says my head, my hand and my foot^.  She flicks a little look and smile at the audience and says, well, if the rest is healthy . . .

 ^ . . . or something like that.  Nothing, ahem, central.


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