Orkest van de Achttiende Eeuw’s DON GIOVANNI at De Doelen, Rotterdam

Last night, at De Doelen, Orkest van de Achttiende Eeuw (Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century) and soloists from Amsterdam Cappella, under the baton of Kenneth Montgomery, premièred a semi-staged Don Giovanni. Performing in the narrow space in front of the orchestra and the area behind, the singers, led by André Morsch in the title role, mostly held their own against an orchestra of over forty musicians, producing its rich warm sound on 18th century instrument.

Don Juan, Dom Juan, Don Giovanni, or even Casanova – everyone knows what the names signify, but Mozart’s opera must be the most famous tale of this character’s amorous misdeeds. Earlier, Molière had written Dom Juan in 1665, Gluck composed a ballet in 1761and these provided the stepping stones for Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte.

Intriguingly, Da Ponte, a Venetian fornicating monk, was a bosom friend of Casanova who is said to have added more than a pinch of salt from his exploits to the story line. This is evident when Don Giovanni’s latest victim, innocent servant girl Zerlina, (deliciously sung by Rosanne van Sandwijk), promises the delights of the bedroom to Masetto, her gullible peasant husband to be, (sung by Berend Eijkhout, making his debut with the orchestra). Zerlina has obviously learnt a thing or two from Don Giovanni – her promises to Masetto could not be more overtly erotic.

Mozart’s Don Giovanni, with its dark iconic figure of Il Commendatore rising from his grave at the end, saw its premiere just after the death of Mozart’s father. It is hard not to see the parallel between the towering figure of Il Commendatore and the overpowering father coming to haunt Mozart, even in death.

Despite this darkness and the dramatic start of the murder of Il Commendatore who seeks to avenge the not entirely believable rape of his daughter Donna Anna (sung by American soprano Katharine Dain) Don Giovanni is often viewed as a comedy, full of characters mercilessly duped and abused by Don Giovanni, starting with his valet, Leporello.

Henk Neven perfectly portrayed the valet’s pliable nature who appeals to Don Giovanni’s conscience, but gleefully recites his master’s list of conquests to Don Giovanni’s jilted, fretting but ever forgiving mistress Donna Elvira (Paula Murrihy). But Don Giovanni’s soul cannot be redeemed – he cares only about ‘his list’ of women he has seduced – ‘I need ten more, tonight,’ he exclaims.

The leading role was written for baritone which is unusual. The tenor in this opera is provided beautifully by Thomas Cooley’s dulcet tones, as Don Ottavio, who hopes to win Donna Anna’s hand by consoling her after the murder of her father, Il Commendatore. This for me was the outstanding performance of the evening.

Donna Anna, sung by Katharine Dain, is the only tragic character throughout the piece. Misused by Don Giovanni, she will not settle for anything less than his destruction. As in all opera plot lines, one must suspend belief – she finally gets her revenge but is there a happy end in sight for her and her faithful but weak fiancé who has worshipped her through her grief? Poor manipulated Don Ottavio will have to wait – she announces that she will first spend a year resting in a convent …

There are too many beautiful, familiar arias to name but all the singers sang beautifully, despite the fact that here and there the voices were occasionally lost against the power of the orchestra. In the final act, David Wilson-Johnson as Il Commendatore, with his rich, dark voice, had no problem booming over the orchestra from a high podium as the statue of the dead Commendatore come to life to finally convey Don Gionvanni to hell – very impressive.

I also particularly liked the women’s semi-costume, the sort of frames once used under 18th century dresses, but here worn over figure-hugging black – Madonna’s various costumes came to mind – very effective as the movement of the rocking of the frames accentuated and heightened even the slightest of the singers moves.     Astrid Burchardt    8th October 2019

Photo by Hans Hijmering

9 oktober, 19.30 uur – deSingel, Antwerpen

10 oktober, 19.30 uur – Parkstad Theaters Limburg, Heerlen

12 oktober, 19.30 uur – De Vereeniging, Nijmegen

zo 13 oktober, 15.00 uur – Zuiderstrandtheater, Den Haag

15 oktober, 19.30 uur – Het Concertgebouw, Amsterdam

16 oktober, 19.00 uur – TivoliVredenburg, Utrecht

18 oktober, 19.30 uur – Concertgebouw, Brugge

19 oktober, 19.30 uur – Concertgebouw, Brugge

20 oktober, 14.15 uur – Muziekgebouw Frits Philips, Eindhoven