Monday, 23 May 2011

Opera: Don Giovanni at Glyndebourne

The cast of Don Giovanni  Photo Glyndebourne

Mozart’s operas are usually fairly jolly affairs – by opera standards – and Don Giovanni, even though it deals with pretty tragic themes (rape, murder) is basically comic in character. Even so, when the wronged Donna Anna (Albina Shagimuratova) discovers her father is dead and begins her aria in the vast, luxurious theatre at Glyndebourne, tears started running down my cheeks. Crying during opera is an affliction I inherited from my mother, and however much I try, I cannot get rid of.  

Putting my silly weeping during operas aside, my first visit to Glyndebourne was a huge success. We were fortunate that the organising had been done for us by a dear friend – all the Englishman and I had to do was to be ready outside our door late Sunday morning. 

Even the train journey from Victoria and back was fairly painless, and the buses were waiting outside the station at Lewis to take us to the house and gardens at Glyndebourne as planned. 

I’d been fretting about what to wear – did I need wedges for the grass, would it be too cold and rainy for my long dress (‘it’s customary to wear black tie for men and long or short dresses for women’ the Glyndebourne site advised). I envied the Englishman for his simple choice of a black tie; why is there not a similar (although boring) alternative for women? However, there was a little mishap with Englishman's slightly tight dinner suit trousers - he's had the same suit for a few years now - but less said about that the better.

Blue skies at Glyndebourne

But you can see it wasn't terribly warm...

In the end I wore a Hobbs black and white maxi dress with a shrug and a black Marimekko jacket which I've had for more years than I can remember, together with white patent NW3 wedges. It was a good choice - I was warm outside and when inside just had to peel off a layer or two.

There was rain as the train pulled into Gatwick; after that the skies were bright. Even the brisk wind didn't worry us, because in honour of a birthday amidst our party, for the long interval (they know how to organise these events in the UK to maximise enjoyment!) we'd booked a table at the Middle and Over Wallop restaurant, which for the duration of the opera festival has been taken over by Albert Roux, OBE.  

I was astonished and honoured when at the end of a fantastic meal of asparagus, lobster and strawberries, and while sipping the rest of our vintage champagne, who else but the famed chef himself, supported by a cane, came and talked to a few of the guests – including us! I was so awe struck I didn’t even think about taking pictures, but it was incredible to talk to a man who, together with his brother, is responsible for such a food revolution in Britain.

Still, even food cooked by a master came second in the enjoyment stakes on the day, because Don Giovanni with London Philharmonic Orchestra was outstanding in every way. Firstly the staging was fantastic and suited the opera's dark themes to a tee. A gigantic pandora’s box of a set transformed itself from darkened streets, to the lavish rooms for Don Giovanni’s orgy, to a dark, sinister graveyard, and finally to a table set for a meal with a ghost. There was even a proper fire at the end of the Act I - it was just incredible!

As for the cast; their voices were incredibly polished – as I mentioned before I was particularly impressed by Albina Shagimuratova who sang the role of Donna Anna, but Lucas Meachem in the role of Don Giovanni should also receive a mention. His character who has to be both cruel, ruthless and seductive, demands incredible vocal attributes together with good acting skills. He has to invite the audience’s wrath as well as earn a secret admiration for his total lack of morals. Don Giovanni has to be a good 'baddie'. Same must be said for Matthew Rose who played Leporello, Don Giovanni’s trusted servant. His character, which is mainly comic, also has a serious side. He has the conscience which his master completely lacks.

When comparing different operas I've often cited Tosca, which we saw at La Bastille in Paris many, many years ago as the best I've ever seen. I'm afraid Don Giovanni at Glyndebourne trumps this by a mile. It was world class opera at its best.

Glyndebourne is screening some of the performances live in cinemas throughout UK this summer:

Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg by Richard Wagner on 26 June 2011
The Turn of the Screw by Benjamin Britten on 21 August 2011
Don Giovanni (recorded 2010) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 31 July 2011  

If you like opera you could do worse than go to one of these screenings - I think I'm going to see if I can get a ticket to the 2010 version of Don Giovanni.

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