Drottningholm is the “country residence” of the Swedish Royal family, Stockholm’s Versailles, in a way, keeping things in proportion. There is a castle, and beautiful gardens, and then there is a theater. A wonderful baroque theater, which, they claim, is the only original baroque theater still functioning in Europe (and this must surely be false). In any case, the theater is truly wonderful, very small (400 seats), with extremely uncomfortable benches. It is very connected with the history of opera, not the least because it was built by Gustav III, great music patron, but most of all the king who got stabbed to death in the opera theater in Stockholm, whose story inspired Il ballo in maschera, by Verdi. Every summer there is a short opera festival, obviously mostly baroque operas, and some Mozart.
This summer, finally, I went to see Don Giovanni, which, I realized, I hadn’t seen in some 15 years (how marvelous is Don Giovanni‘s music anyway?). The production was very simple, also because of the limitations of the theater. The idea was that of “metatheatre”, with a “stage” on the stage. <sarcasm>Oh, what a novel idea! I had never seen such an invention! The director is a genius!</sarcasm> I mean, it was an idea that has been around for a few hundred years and seen a million of times, but let’s move on.
The orchestra was the theatre own, mad of local musicians, with original instruments. The conductor was Marc Minkowski, a baroque specialist who plays all over the world. His tempi were very daring, too fast for me, but luckily not all the time. In general, he had a vehemence, a very enthralling inner rush, which at times resulted a bit overwhelming to the singers, who were a bit lost. But, a part from that, I really liked him a lot, and the orchestra resulted wonderful. A good sound, fine details, great concertation. They did the Prague version, without Dalla sua pace and Mi tradì quell’alma ingrata.
The singers were all strangers, for me, and, in general, I was pleasantly surprised, with one exception, which I will describe in detail later. The level was globally very high, and the performance was very satisfying. They were all young, handsome and fresh. They all lacked some style and some legato, but the voices were very beautiful.
We start with the title role, Don Giovanni, Jean-Sébastien Bou, a Frenchman with a somewhat weak voice, especially in the lower register. The voice is good, and with good phrasing; his best moments were the lyrical parts: a great serenade, and one of the best Là ci darem la mano that I have ever heard (and I have heard Ramey!). Remarkable. He also acted pretty well, and the character came out, here and there.
Leporello was Robert Gleadow, who sang at the MET, at the ROH in London, everywhere, so he can’t be a total disaster, right? Well, I had a very strong visceral reaction to this singer, I don’t remember a singer getting on my nerves so much ever since I hear Alagna. I detested him. The voice is there, strong, powerful, in tune, and, to be honest, the timbre is also good. But he sings like a dog howling at the moon. No elegance, no style, a total boor. First of all, his Italian diction is completely wrong. Not because he doesn’t try (he doesn’t sound like an American trying to pronounce Italian) but because he tries too hard. The result is Peter Griffin going boppity boppity.
My first voice teacher said that every singer needs to find his “Ah” sound: you need to find your vowel, the right “Ah” vowel to sing on. Well, this guy found his “Ah” in the garbage can. It’s rough, unbecoming, too open, disgusting. Then he continuously “roars”, during the recitativi, but also in the arias! And when I say “roars” I mean he sings while he clears his voice, kind of like Little Richards (as an example). Probably he thinks that it’s funny, and somebody must have told him that Leporello is a funny character, so he does his best to be funny. It’s a disaster. We must add that the director uses his character as a clown, and this is not the singer’s fault, but he relishes in this part, he screams, he rolls on the floor, he makes awful grimaces, a performance beyond measure, and beyond common sense. The catalogue was written on his skin, so that he himself was the “book” on which he recorded the names of Don Giovanni’s lovers, and, during the aria, he takes off his clothes piece by piece, until he’s in his underwear, and he pulls it down, showing us his butt, covered in names. The crowd went wild. They adored him, and I didn’t have the strength to boo.
Let’s move on.
Donna Anna and Donna Elvira were the best player on the field. Donna Anna was Ana Maria Labin, from Rumania, and Donna Elvira was Marie-Adeline Henry, French. Both had very beautiful voices, Henry’s darker and stronger in the center register, but both with wonderful high notes and amazing breath. Both young and beautiful, great stage presence. Unfortunately we could not hear Henry in Mi tradì quell’alma ingrata, but her two arias were very much on the spot. The same can be said about Labin: her two arias were truly beautiful, with great effect. Both, in my opinion lack phrasing, style and emotion, but they are very young. The voices are truly remarkable.
Stanislas de Barbeyrac was the tenor singing Don Ottavio: his voice does not have great personality, but it’s in tune, his high notes are easy and the coloratura is good. Maybe a bit too white, but let’s not complain.
Chiara Skerath, singing Zerlina, was one of the most famous singers on the stage, she even sang in Salzburg (as one of the Flower Maidens in Parsifal). I liked her, but, to my taste, Labin and Henry were better. Maybe her voice is a bit metallic, and I have very little tolerance.
Last but not least, I mention the very young bass Krzysztof Baczyk, singing both Masetto and Il commendatore, whom I really liked A LOT. He’s only 26, and, in my opinion, could become very very good. He’s the only one who gave me a feeling of elegance, and he seemed to give meaning to words. We’ll see how he progresses.