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Peter J. Rabinowitz
Fanfare, September 2010

The ending of Don Giovanni is always a challenge for directors and performers, since the easy moralisms of the final sextet are, on the surface at least, a surprisingly flimsy resolution to such an ethically complicated drama. Lluis Pasqual’s production, set in 1940s Spain, solves the problems with a sharp political barb: As a backdrop for the last minute or two, we see clips from fascist feel-good newsreels depicting public demonstrations by huge, enthusiastically waving Franco-loving crowds. The awkward moral uplift of the scene is thus reinterpreted here as the victory of repression: Don Giovanni, a fighter for freedom, is taken down by what Pascual calls “the establishment.” Or, more accurately, almost taken down—for as in Francesca Zambello’s Royal Opera House production, the Don has the last laugh, here popping up again at the end as one of the newsreel cameramen. His knowing grin to the audience is the last thing we see.

In principle, I suppose, this is a plausible take on the action: Surely, Don Giovanni (or Don Juan more generally) is no simple villain, and his complexity stems in large part from his admirable refusal to submit to social norms. This particular ironizing of the ending, however, doesn’t quite work in practice, because it has virtually nothing to do with the three hours of music drama that we’ve just witnessed. Granted, Carlos Álvarez is nowhere near as vicious a Don Giovanni as Simon Keenlyside is in the ROH production; still, there’s little attempt to play up his more attractive side until he’s dead. Furthermore, except for Don Ottavio’s fairly generic military uniform, there’s no clear connection between the forces lined up against Don Giovanni and the fascist regime; in fact, in the opening scene, it’s Don Giovanni himself who looks like a fascist higher-up abusing his power—and throughout the opera, it’s precisely his “establishment” credentials that serve his purposes. The ending is too little too late.

Still, whatever the problems with the last few minutes, the production’s updating is otherwise handled with tact and intelligence. A few moments aside, Pasqual respects the text and the music. And while much of the lighting is too dark (which makes it hard to see the details, especially when the characters are dressed in black), it’s generally a pleasure to watch...The singers have a good sense of ensemble...well coordinated and full of energy...You have to admire the way Maria José Moreno, as a slightly frail Zerlina, manages to knock off the beginning of “Vedrai, carino” while riding on a bike (that can’t be easy)...As an actress, María Bayo does well as Donna Anna, expertly catching her transformation from self-confident spitfire (she grabs Don Giovanni’s knife and nearly stabs him in the opening scene) to a woman aged by the weight of her double trauma...Sonia Ganassi...does on occasion (for instance, in her confident leaps in “Ah fuggi il traditor”) ring out with authority. Lorenzo Regazzo may not be an especially memorable Leporello (he sounds more involved on the Jacobs SACD), but he’s got an attractive voice and manner...The only really stand-out performance, though, is José Bros as a Don Ottavio, notable both for his strength (it doesn’t hurt that he begins “Dalla sua pace” with a military pistol in hand) and for his liquid beauty of tone. The orchestra plays well, with tight winds and excellent balances; Pérez could sometimes keep things moving a bit more quickly (especially in the recitatives), but on the whole there’s little to complain about in his conducting.

Textually, we get more-or-less the Vienna version, with both “Dalla sua pace” and “Il mio tesora” but without “Per queste tue manine.” Sonically, we’re more or less at the conductor’s podium, with good orchestral spread and depth...Close-ups are generally vivid...

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