WORKS: Don Giovanni
PERFORMER: Erwin Schrott, Anna Netrebko, Luca Pisaroni, Malena Ernman, Charles Castronovo, Mario Luperi, Katija Dragojevic, Jonathan Lemalu; Balthasar-Neumann-Chor & Ensemble/Thomas Hengelbrock; dir. Philipp Himmelmann (Baden-Baden, 2013)
CATALOGUE NO: 88843040109
There’s a lot that’s good about this performance, and a lot that isn’t. The staging is unpromising, a couple of chairs and a frosted tree, and periodically the drop curtain comes down to show the sky at night, and presumably to give the whole thing cosmic undertones. Everything depends on the actors – for instance, Don Giovanni isn’t wearing a mask in the opening scene, so Donna Anna can see her would-be rapist perfectly well. Does that matter? Given the fuss everyone makes about identifying the villain, I’d say it does. So it’s up to the singers to make the implausible seem probable. Similarly with the three masked figures in the Act I finale, where all the tension has to be musical.
Conductor Thomas Hengelbrock doesn’t so much go in for music as for speed, and his period orchestra sounds to me distinctly undernourished. It also seems subordinate to the singers, excessively so. Some tempos are odd, unstable and fluctuating, others metronomic. What saves the performance and makes it electric, is the supreme Don Giovanni of Erwin Schrott, leading bass-baritone, playing his signature role. He looks wonderful, is a natural and extraordinarily gifted actor, and has so much sinister charm that one understands why no woman can resist him. He has a rich voice, with many subtle shades. This is a definitive account.
The other singers are all adequate, but apart from soprano Anna Netrebko’s Anna none of them is outstanding. Cuts are made: Don Ottavio loses his Act I aria, and Elvira loses hers in Act II.