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I wrote this in April 2011 after going to see Don Giovanni at the Staatsoper when I was studying abroad in Vienna, Austria. Unfortunately, I was feeling ill in the middle of it and left early.

 

The final live musical performance I attended was Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Staatsoper. It was a bittersweet experience in that I will rarely have the opportunity to witness music and productions of the quality that I have seen in the United States without having to pay a very large sum of money.

Mozart always had the flare for the dramatic, and he truly brings it out in the opening overture to Don Giovanni. It certainly reflects the story of the wooer of women and the melodrama, comedy, and supernatural elements that ensue. The backdrop of the stage consists of a screen with a picture of the cityscape in black and white. The bumbling and swooping of the low instruments brings about the loping manservant of Don Giovanni, Leporello, that sings of how he is tired of keeping watch while his master seduces women. It is a great musical portrayal of the “opera buffa” elements, as the listener feels a sense of rustic buffoonery. I thought that Leporello had a nice strong and comedic presence onstage with a resonating deep voice. Then Donna Anna appears, chasing a masked Don Giovanni and demanding to know his identity. Her voice was a bit lackluster and not too impressive, but she was attractive. Don Giovanni was also very good-looking and had a deep, powerful voice. The Commendatore appeared to defend his daughter’s honor and is killed by Don Giovanni while Donna Anna seeks help. Her grief really shines through with the music when she returns with her fiancé Don Ottavio, finding her father dead. In my opinion, Don Ottavio had the weakest and most inexperienced voice out of the entire ensemble. It was very weak, especially in the high register. They swear revenge on the unidentified man as the music swells dramatically into the scene change.

The next scene looks almost like a tavern where we see a woman, Donna Elvira, cursing Don Giovanni for leaving her and scorning her love. Leporello and Don Giovanni enter and find her, Giovanni taking some time to try to woo her until he realized she was a past conquest. A group of women gather there to celebrate perhaps the wedding shower of Zerlina, a beautiful country girl, and Leporello takes the time to brag of the large number of Giovanni’s conquests. This is one of my favourite arias in the opera, and it certainly drew laughter from the crowd. Don Giovanni arrives and is instantly taken with Zerlina and is set upon making her one of the notches on his belt. He offers to host the wedding celebration at his own lavish house, and Masetto, Zerlina’s fiancé, becomes suspicious and jealous. Elvira re-enters and tries to persuade them not to follow through with it and reveals Don Giovanni’s true nature.

Donna Anna and Don Ottavio come to the abode of Don Giovanni in an attempt to ask his help in finding the murderer of her father without realizing that they are right in front of him. Again, I was thwarted with the lackluster quality in voices. Elvira once again enters to reveal the seducing nature of Don Giovanni, and after those two depart Donna Anna realizes and recognizes Giovanni as her father’s killer.

The next scene takes place at the ball at Giovanni’s estate. I really enjoyed the elaborate costuming, but some of them just made me laugh. Leporello looked like a giant, frilly clown, and poor Masetto appeared as if he was in some kind of feathery bird costume. Masetto hides in a closet of sorts, trying to catch Zerlina with Giovanni in a compromising position. Upon discovering him there, Giovanni leads Zerlina to her fiancé and leaves them together. Meanwhile a group of masked ballgoers (Donna Elvira, Donna Anna, and Don Ottavio) enter, hoping to catch Giovanni in foul play and are ushered in by Leporello. Leporello then distracts Masetto by dancing with him in an effort to distract him from Don Giovanni’s renewed pursuit of Zerlina. We are suddenly met with Zerlina’s cries for help as Giovanni tries to frame her distress on Leporello. The group of masked guests reveal themselves and exclaims how they know the truth. Guns are drawn as the music swells into a crescendo as the act ends in suspense.

I was unable to see the second act due to my feeling very ill throughout the first act. It distracted me somewhat from enjoying the performance fully, but I still wish that I could have experienced the entire production. It would have been great to see the dramatic conclusion of Don Giovanni being dragged down to Hell.

dongiovanni

 

❤ Me

 

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When I studied abroad in Vienna, Austria, I took a course called Vienna and it’s Music Live. It was wonderful! Part of the requirements were to attend at least 8 performances and write a review as well as our thoughts about it. The majority of the performances I went to were at the Staatsoper (State Opera House). For 3-4 Euros, I could see a performance in standing areas. That is a phenomenal opportunity! Seats for the performances could be anywhere around 50+ Euros, so you understand why I saw so many shows even though my feet would be sore afterward!

Here is my little review of the first live opera I saw called La Sonnambula by Bellini:

April 1, 2011

La Sonnambula – Bellini

            La Sonnambula by Vincenzo Bellini is the endearing tale of a young woman with a secret unconscious habit of sleepwalking that gets her into serious trouble with the town. The light-hearted and fairly shallow plot fits perfectly with the bel canto singing style which embodies the music of this opera. In fact, I think Bellini focused on making the music outshine the actual plot of the story.

The opening overture is light and playful, setting the mood with its lack of depth. As the curtain opened, I exclaimed at the breathtaking staging that the Wiener Staatsoper chose. It really made me feel as if I was staying at a fancy hotel in Switzerland with the grand table and place settings and giant windows. The rousing Viva chorus had my spirits lifted. I wasn’t expecting Amina to be a maid of the hotel, though. She did have quite a beautiful voice, but I preferred Natalie Dessay’s vocal abilities and portrayal of the role personally. There were times when she was very forward in her sound production, and it almost sounded strained. Lisa, the hotel manager, had a good voice, but I didn’t believe it to be strong enough. She seemed like she might have been more comfortable as a mezzo-soprano. Elvino had a decent voice for opera, but I’m not sure he was ready to be cast in a style where so much relies on the vocal abilities that bel canto demands. Count Rodolfo had the strongest voice and character presence of the main cast in my opinion. His costumes were a bit over-the-top, and he must have been sweltering in all of the (faux) fur he was garbed in.

I expected there to be a scenery change into a bedroom setting when the second scene began, but the original set-up remained. The Count’s attempted seduction of Lisa in the empty dining hall didn’t seem as believable. Amina sleepwalked from the outside of the hotel into the main dining hall which also confused me. Where did she originally come from? The Count settled her down onto the floor and covered her with his massive cloak, which was the only indication that he could have been accused of being involved with her.  Morning arrives, and the townspeople catch her on the dining hall floor, and an uproar of accusations arises.  Elvino’s renouncing of his fiancé was a little too dramatic, accompanied by the sudden blowing in of a blizzard into the middle of the room from an open window.

In the beginning of the second act, the pile of snow was still in the middle of the floor along with a broken piano, and the hotel looked nearly deserted and out of business. This was another confusing aspect that I wish I knew the director’s motivation behind this. I did find the duet between Amina and Elvino to be very endearing as she pleads and he turns her away. In the next scene, Lisa redeemed herself with an aria, believing herself to soon be married to Elvino instead. This is not to be, unfortunately, because they find one of her stockings at the scene of the “crime” with the Count. Amina sleepwalked in through the window once more and down the snow pile, which was again strange and a bit dangerous because there were many obstacles in her way that she could have tripped over. It would have been cool to see her sleepwalk out into the audience as was shown in the production we saw in class. The finale was fairly celebratory, but I thought it to be a bit sparse. It would have been great to see dancing everywhere in a wedding celebration, but mainly it was Amina dancing on top of the table in a gaudy red dress. This was probably to put emphasis on the voice of the singers, but it seemed a little lackluster to me.

All in all, I enjoyed this opera as a light-hearted pursuit, but I didn’t experience anything monumental leaving it and was bored at some points. I may want to see it again in another venue with different voices before I pass a judgment on it.

 

 

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