Donose, Ruxandra


FarnaceAntonio Vivaldi - Farnace

Opéra National du Rhin, 2012 | George Petrou, Lucinda Childs, Max Emanuel Cencic, Mary Ellen Nesi, Ruxandra Donose, Carol Garcia, Vivica Genaux, Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, Juan Sancho | Strasbourg, France, 18 May 2012

Originally created in 1729 for the Teatro Sant’ Angelo in Venice, Farnace was subjected to revisions by Vivaldi in 1738 for a new production in Ferrare, the composer adapting the airs and recitative for the tessitura for the Ferrare singers, but also seeking to rework the opera in the Neapolitan ‘galant style’. The performances were however cancelled - for reasons unknown - and Vivaldi left the new version of the work unfinished after revising only the first two of the opera’s three acts. Fascinated by Vivaldi’s work on the Ferrare version, one of the last pieces of work written by the composer, and considering it worth reviving and preserving, George Petrou, along with Frédéric Delaméa and Diego Fasolis, undertook the task of continuing the revisions made by Vivaldi through to the third act, and the revised Farnace was given its first ever complete live performance (it was recorded in 2010) by the Opéra National du Rhin in Strasbourg on 18th May 2012, premiered some 274 years after it was written by Vivaldi.

The resulting work then is perhaps not musically 100% pure Vivaldi, but as a best guess interpretation of the composer’s intentions, the work has certainly been carried out with scholarly authority and it’s probably no less “authentic” than just about any interpretation of the music, style, tempo and instrumentation for most Baroque opera seria works of this period. If the first two acts were to ever be reconstructed and performed, it was however essential to either rewrite the third act or simply play the opera in its incomplete state. Simply grafting the original third act from the Venice Farnace onto the revised Ferrare version wouldn’t have worked, so small but significant modifications had to be undertaken for the sake of the singers. Directed for the stage at Strasbourg by Lucinda Childs, the validity of the new version or the power of Vivaldi’s energetic writing for the content of the opera itself was never in question, although whether the stage production managed to find an expression that was equally as successful was less certain.

Farnace

Lucinda Childs is better known for her ballet creations and choreography for the US avant-garde musicians and directors who came to prominence in the 1960s - Childs most notably being involved in the Gesamkunstwerk of Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach. She has however increasingly been working as an opera director in recent years, although ballet inevitably plays a part in her style, and indeed in her Farnace for the Opéra National du Rhin Childs pairs each of the singers with a “double” who dances the role while the other sings. Farnace is however not an opera-ballet and Childs recognises this, so the dancing doesn’t play as large a part in the stage direction as you might imagine, but what is used is well placed and appropriate. The rhythms of Baroque music certainly lend themselves to expression in this way, helping to bring out the emotional undercurrents and turmoil of a very heated dramatic situation where Farnace, the King of Pontus, son of Mitridate, has been defeated by the Roman army under Pompeo with the aid of Berenice, his own mother-in-law. He orders his wife Tamari to commit suicide with their young son rather than be taken by the enemy, and, driven to distraction by the events that are unfolding, and gaining an opportunity through his sister Selinda sowing discord and gaining favour among the Roman military command, he attempts to assassinate Pompeo.

Childs’ direction and the use of dancers do work to an extent in getting across the dark drama that unfolds, and combined with the stage designs of Bruno de Lavenère and some interesting choreography by Childs it does prove to be an effective way of overcoming the challenge that the rather static nature of opera seria drama often presents, finding a way of getting to the heart of the characters’ inner turmoil, albeit in a fairly conventional theatrical way that isn’t particularly inspired, but shouldn’t upset traditionalists either. If it doesn’t always find a way of bringing the work to life, Vivaldi’s furiously energetic writing is fortunately more than capable of achieving the necessary impact on its own. Perhaps not enough to sustain an audience through the somewhat gruelling two hours of the first two acts, which were combined without a break, but it helps if the singing is of a high quality and, with most of the principal cast from Diego Fasolis’s 2010 recording of the Ferrare version reprising their roles onstage here at Strasbourg and the score propelled forward by the Concerto Köln under George Petrou, that at least was achieved in no uncertain terms.

Farnace

The star attraction was undoubtedly the singing and performance of Max Emanuel Cencic, a countertenor with remarkable strength in this high register, much more forceful than you would normally expect to hear from this kind of singer, yet he loses none of the underlying lightness and lyricism that is required also. This was exactly the tone you would like to hear in the character of Farnace, considering the extreme range of emotions and development that he undergoes throughout the opera, and Cencic handled the flowing coloratura of the da capo arias impressively and expressively in this respect. Force was evident also in the casting of the four mezzo-soprano roles in the opera, the most commanding of which was undoubtedly Mary Ellen Nesi as the formidable Berenice, but Ruxandra Donose was also a strong, determined and driven Tamiri. Vivica Genaux was also notable as Gilade, and Carol Garcia fine as Selinda. The tenor roles of Auilo (Emiliano Gonzalez) and Pompeo (Juan Sancho) were also well performed.

The Opéra National du Rhin production at Strasbourg will be recorded for broadcast on France 3 television, and will be made available to international audiences via internet streaming on ARTE Live Web from 30th May 2012.

GiovanniWolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Don Giovanni

Royal Opera House, London, 2012 | Constantinos Carydis, Francesca Zambello, Erwin Schrott, Alex Exposito, Carmela Remigio, Ruxandra Donose, Pavol Breslik, Kate Lindsey, Matthew Rose, Reinhard Hagen | Covent Garden, 26 February 2012

It never ceases to amaze me how it is possible to play Don Giovanni in so many different ways, with subtle shifts of emphasis that can change one’s whole view of the work. That’s possible with most great operas in the hands of an imaginative director, but I find that it is particularly the case with Don Giovanni, a work that was brilliantly designed to be open and ambiguous, giving the appearance of moral rectitude where the villain is punished and his misdeeds reflected over in an epilogue, but in reality being much more complicated than that. I didn’t find that Francesca Zambello’s 2002 production, revived here at the Royal Opera House under director Barbara Lluch, had a whole lot to add to the various interpretations that have added different layers to the character of Don Giovanni, but the joy of the opera is that the Count is often defined by the other characters in the work and that leaves a lot of room for reinterpretation.

There was nothing new in the relationship between Don Giovanni and Leporello here then - the Don is a loveable rogue who can’t help himself when it comes to women, and Leporello is his admiring comedy sidekick, enjoying his adventures in seduction across Europe up until the moment that Don Giovanni’s wicked ways start to catch up with him. If there was a lack of imagination in how this is played out, it’s at least an enjoyable way to see the familiar pleasures of opera, and it may even have been an intentional decision on the part of the director Francesco Zambello, in order to place more emphasis on the female characters and allow them to take more of a central role. The women are by no means overlooked or underdeveloped by Mozart and Da Ponte, but they are often seen as secondary foils who are only there to unravel Don Giovanni’s schemes and bring him to justice for his crimes.

Under Francesca Zambello’s direction, the women are often positioned together, forming a kind of bond of sisterhood. In Donna Elvira’s Act II aria ‘Mi tradì quell’ alma ingrata‘, where she laments her inability to give up her unfaithful man, she is joined in silent sympathy by both Donna Anna and Zerlina, who both have their own problems not only with Don Giovanni, but with the other men in their life. Their bonding is celebrated again with hugs in the opera’s epilogue, but it’s not some kind of proto-feminist solidarity at their success in overthrowing the tyranny of male domination represented by the descent into hell of Don Giovanni - that would be inappropriate for the 18th century setting and contrary to the characterisation as it is defined in the libretto. Rather it’s an acknowledgement of the women of their nature - falling for good looks and charms of a man they know is no good for them, whose words can’t be trusted, who will seduce and abandon them, but who nonetheless makes them feel desired and special. Think how that would feel if he really meant it. That’s an irresistible prospect and the women just can’t help themselves and are powerless against their own impulses and these drives that Don Giovanni awakens in them.

Giovanni

I wouldn’t however give too much credit to Francesca Zambello for bring out this aspect of the work - like so many other interpretations it’s all there in the brilliant libretto and the stunning musical arrangements of the original work and just waiting to be explored - particularly as in most other respects the production here is surprisingly lacking. The stage sets may be well designed to fluidly switch between all the complicated location arrangements that take place in two long acts of the opera, but they are ugly and clunky, the huge bulky woodwork not remaining in the background, but swinging out over the whole of the stage, the positioning of the actors within it meaning that depending where you are seated, they can be often hidden from view. At best the set is functional - it didn’t hamper the progression of the drama or detract from the enjoyment of the fine performances - but it’s unwieldy and unattractive.

If there is not a great deal that’s new to be gained from this particular production, the audience at least has the pleasure of seeing a great work well performed. The last time I saw Erwin Schrott in a production of Don Giovanni (a 2008 Salzburg production on Blu-ray), he was a wonderful twitchy Leporello, but he can do the role of the master just as effectively, making it look effortless. Don Giovanni may not have any arias in the opera, but it’s a difficult role to carry off convincingly. It’s not just that Schrott fulfils the necessary bari-hunk credentials that one needs for the role nowadays, rather gratuitously in this production having to strip down to the waist, (although as he demonstrated to a lady in the Stalls Circle Left at the Royal Opera House, he has no shortage of magnetic charm), but his singing was assured and in character. A little comic exaggeration doesn’t go amiss in Don Giovanni, but when required, Schrott could carry the necessary noble contemptuousness for others while giving the impression of being utterly irresistible in his charms. It wasn’t required here as much as in other productions, but I’m sure he could carry off the nasty and cruel streak in Don Giovanni if the emphasis in a production were in that direction.

The fact that it wasn’t a dark and dangerous Don Giovanni however is by no means a flaw, but a matter of interpretation, particularly when one wants to draw on other aspects of the work. In order to shift the balance over to the female perspective however, it needs very strong singers in the more challenging roles of Donna Anna and Donna Elvira. Carmela Remigio and Ruxandra Donose met the necessary criteria as far as the demands of the production required, the two of them together certainly representing a formidable force to challenge Don Giovanni, their singing strong and filled with character, even if they didn’t always hold up to the technical demands of the more difficult arias. Kate Lindsey was a little anonymous in the role of the flighty Zerlina, and her voice wasn’t the most delicate of tones, but her interaction with the excellent Matthew Rose as Masetto was fine.

If you could say there was a weakness in the female make-up that didn’t necessarily compromise their position as far as the aims of this production went, there was in comparison a general solidity to the all the male roles, with Pavol Breslik an earnest Don Ottavio and Reinhard Hagen a commanding Commendatore. Seen recently as Papageno in Die Zauberflöte, Alex Exposito clearly specialises in strong, comic Mozartian character parts and he fully entered into the spirit of Leporello, with all the comic exaggeration that the role often demands, singing well, as ever, with heartfelt passion. There was no lack of commitment or fire in any of the performances - the orchestra also in form under Constantinos Carydis - and if fire is what you like, there was plenty of that in the final scene of Don Giovanni’s descent into hell, where the heat of the flames could be certainly be felt in the front rows. If the stage directions were questionable elsewhere, the orchestration of the final scenes were well-judged for maximum impact, not least in the final postscript where Don Giovanni seems to be quite at home in the underworld.