Review: “Don Giovanni” – D’Arcangelo, Schrott Lead Stellar Cast; Mozart Magic from Maestro Minkowski; – San Francisco Opera, June 4, 2017

Ildebrando d’Arcangelo was Giovanni and  Erwin Schrott was Leporello in a revised production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at the San Francisco Opera. They were joined by a world-class cast under the direction of French Maestro Marc Minkowski.

Ildebrando d’Arcangelo’s “Don Giovanni”

Italian bass-baritone Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, in his San Francisco Opera debut, was an energetic and stylish Giovanni. D’Arcangelo sang Giovanni’s two most famous arias – the “champagne aria” Finch’han dal vino and the “serenade” Deh vieni alla finestra – with charm.

[Below: Ildebrando d’Arcangelo as Don Giovanni; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

Although General Manager Matthew Shilvock, before the curtain, had announced that d’Arcangelo was not feeling well, any impact on d’Arcangelo’s performance was undetectable.

Erwin Schrott’s Leporello

Uruguayan bass-baritone Erwin Schrott, in his San Francisco Opera debut, continuously stole the show as a witty, thoroughly likable, Leporello. Schrott’s bass-baritone has a particular resonance with the War Memorial Opera House’s superb acoustics.

[Below: Erwin Schrott as Leporello; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

I have admired Schrott’s performances in both Mozart [Fine Cast Revives Strehler’s Treasured “Nozze di Figaro” Production – Opera National de Paris, May 31, 2011] and Romantic Era Italian opera [Review: “Mefistofele” Impressively Performed by Schrott, Castronovo, Penda and Blue in New Philipp Himmelmann Production – Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, May 16, 2016]

Don Giovanni and Leporello

Although I have reported on d’Arcangelo’s Don Giovanni performances in Los Angeles [Ildebrando D’Arcangelo’s Roguish Libertine, James Conlon’s Impressive Conducting, in Insightful “Don Giovanni” – Los Angeles Opera, September 22, 2012] and San Diego [Review: Ildebrando D’Arcangelo Leads Strong “Don Giovanni” Cast – San Diego Opera, February 14, 2015], this was my first opportunity to observe him in performance with Erwin Schrott’s Leporello.

One of the performance traditions of this opera is for two artists to play Giovanni and Leporello, alternating the roles. Schrott and d’Arcangelo, in fact, have a history of exchanging the roles in performances in which both sing. There is profound artistry in the spontaneous play between d’Arcangelo and Schrott in these iconic roles.

[Below: Leporello (Erwin Schrott, right) is in service to Don Giovanni (Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, left); edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

There will never be definitive agreement as to what “Don Giovanni” is about, so intelligent performers can explore the minds of the Don and his man and come up with their own take on what is happening at each moment of the opera. Both artists are insightful actors who can delve into the relationship between this servant and master.

(After the production’s final dress rehearsal and before the opening performance reviewed here, a decision was made by the production staff – I believe correctly – to eliminate a hat and wig worn by Schrott as Leporello.  Schrott’s bareheaded Leporello subtly seems to make the character seem less subservient to the Don.)

Erin Wall’s Donna Anna

In another important San Francisco Opera debut, Canadian soprano Erin Wall sang the role of Donna Anna with dignity as well as dramatic intensity. Her voice is large and warm and effective in both of Donna Anna’s great arias.

[Below: Erin Wall as Donna Anna; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

I have previously reported on several of Wall’s impressive performances, especially at the Santa Fe Opera [see Groves, Wall, Lindsey Excel in Christopher Alden’s Harrowing, Hallucinatory “Hoffmann” – Santa Fe Opera, July 17, 2010 .]

Among her triumphs were the title roles of two important 20th century operas [see Erin Wall, Mark Delavan Are Superb in Elegant New Production of “Arabella” – Santa Fe Opera, August 1, 2012 and Review: An Elegant Production of Barber’s “Vanessa” at Santa Fe Opera, July 30, 2016.]

Ana María Martínez’ Donna Elvira

Puerto Rican soprano Ana María Martínez continues to amaze in the range of roles she assays. Her Elvira is vocally solid. Like her colleagues, she is in command of her “big arias”, but it is Martinez’ acting that, I believe, the audience will remember long after the performance.

If, as I believe, the interplay of d’Arcangelo’s Giovanni and Schrott’s Leporello deserves special notice, the interplay of both of these experienced actors with Martinez’ Elvira is yet another feature of this production to be celebrated.

Below: Ana Maria Martinez as Donna Elvira; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.

Martinez has developed a fiery interpretation of Donna Elvira – which was very much in evidence in a contemporary production elsewhere [see Review: Mariusz Kwiecien Excels in Robert Falls New “Don Giovanni” Production – Lyric Opera of Chicago, October 29, 2014].

Designer Andrea Viotti’s costumes for San Francisco are more subdued than the provocative outfit worn by Elvira in the Chicago production (to be revived next year by the Houston Grand Opera), but Martinez’ seething sexuality was little diminished by the more conservative attire.

Towards the end of the final sextet in San Francisco, Schrott’s Leporello presents Martinez’ Elvira with the trophy of Giovanni’s book of sexual conquests. Perhaps his Leporello doubts that Martinez’ Elvira will ever find her way to a convent.

 Sarah Shafer’s Zerlina

Soprano Sarah Shafer was believable as the peasant girl, Zerlina, reflecting the character’s innocence.

[Below: Sarah Shafer as Zerlina; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

Shafer is an artist who, on the War Memorial Opera House stage, has previously starred in both Mozart [Review: The Jun Kaneko “Magic Flute” Revived – San Francisco Opera, October 20, 2015] and new opera [World Premiere Review: Tutino’s Melodic, Melodramatic “Two Women (La Ciociara)” Makes a Strong First Impression – San Francisco Opera, June 13, 2015].

Stanislas de Barbeyrac’s Don Ottavio

French tenor Stanislas de Barbeyrac displayed a lyric voice of appropriate weight for Don Ottavio’s two arias. He made a good impression in this, his San Francisco Opera debut.

[Below: Stanislas de Barbeyrac as Don Ottavio; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

Michael Sumuel’s Masetto

Texas  baritone Michael Sumuel, appearing in his fourth San Francisco Opera role this decade, has proven to be a competent, confident Masetto, a role that should never be undercast.

[Below: Michael Sumuel as Masetto; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

Adept at such comic roles as Belcore [Review: Engaging “Elixir of Love” at Houston Grand Opera, October 29, 2016], Sumuel is a veteran of Robert Falls’ Lyric Opera of Chicago production (as is Martinez and, this production’s Commendatore, Andrea Silvestrelli).

Andrea Silvestrelli’s Commendatore

Italian-born American basso Andrea Silvestrelli is invaluable in any role whose notes descend deep in the basso range. As the ghost of the slain Commendatore, Silvestrelli is an ominous presence.

[Below: The stone effigy of the Commendatore (Andrea Silvestrelli, left) has agreed to join Don Giovanni (Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, right) for dinner; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

In a bravura assignment, Silvestrelli is alternating all eight performances of Sparafucile in Verdi’s “Rigoletto” with all eight performances of the Commendatore.

Maestro Marc Minkowski and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra

The San Francisco Opera Orchestra sounded brilliant under the direction of French conductor Marc Minkowski, making his San Francisco Opera debut. Minkowski’s overture was revelatory in its dramatic phrasing.

[Below: Conductor Mark Minkowski; edited image, based on a Benjamin Chelly photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

Jacopo Spirei’s Production and Tommi Brem’s Scenic Adaptations

The last time that “Don Giovanni” had been presented by the San Francisco Opera (in 2011), a new production had been staged by Gabriele Lavia, with sets by Alessandro Camera [Meachem, Vinco, Lead Cast of Imaginatively Staged “Don Giovanni” – San Francisco Opera, October 23, 2011] and costumes by Andrea Viotti.

The current production by Jacopo Spirei retains several important concepts of the previous production,  but otherwise radically departs from it.

Retained are most of Alessandro Camera’s sets and Andrea Viotti’s costumes, including the Viotti-designed elaborate white masks worn by the three noble guests to Don Giovanni’s first banquet.

[Below: Leporello (Erwin Schrott, left) has invited three masked nobles, Don Ottavio (Stanislas de Barbeyrac, left plumed masker), Donna Anna (Erin Wall, center masker) and Donna Elvira (Ana Maria Martinez, right masker) to join the party as instructed by Don Giovanni (Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, right); edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

The idea of mixing period chairs and contemporary wooden benches remains, as is the image of the Commendatore as a stone graveyard statue.

21 large mirrors from the Lavia production are retained, although they are essentially repurposed (the principal departure from the previous Lavia staging). The mirrors become part of an elaborate scheme of projections by German visual designer Tommi Brem that usually refer to characters who are not presently on stage.

The image of Silvestrelli’s Commendatore injects itself into several scenes, reminding us that the character’s vengeance is a motivating force in much of what is happening. When Barbeyrac’s Don Ottavio sings of his love for Wall’s Donna Anna, we see her image on multiple screens.

[Below: Don Ottavio (Stanislas de Barbeyrac, standing, center front) refers to his fiancé Donna Anna (Erin Wall, whose photograph appears in the frames surrounding him) as his treasure; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

In the moralizing finale in which the six surviving characters reflect on what has just happened, the image of Don Giovanni – stuck in Hell – suddenly surrounds them.

[Below: the six survivors have gathered together as the spectre of Don Giovanni appears in the frames that surround them; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

I am an advocate for the greater use of visual projections in opera, including those of the standard repertory, even though I am unconvinced by this particular projection scheme.

That said, I found nothing about the visual production that dissuades me from believing that I had experienced an outstanding vocal and dramatic performance of this great opera.

Recommendation

I enthusiastically recommend the current San Francisco Opera production of “Don Giovanni” for its cast and conductor, for both the veteran operagoer and the person new to opera.

 

For my remarks on the opera published in the 2015 San Diego Opera program accompanying Ildebrando d’Arcangelo’s performance as Don Giovanni, see: Don Giovanni in Bohemia: How the Community of Prague Assured Mozart’s Last Four Operas.