There's only one blemish on Francesca Zambello's vivid production of Don Giovanni, with which the Royal Opera is opening its season. And this is the giant forefinger which swings down from the heavens – like the original 'It Could Be You' advert for the Lottery – to send the reprobate hero to his doom. But the cast is as good as it's ever been, with Simon Keenlyside as the Don, Joyce DiDonato and Marina Poplavskaya as Elvira and Anna respectively, and with that lustrous Swedish soprano Miah Persson as the peasant bride Zerlina.
Persson, who hasn't sung this role before, has an interesting take on it. "The challenge," she says, "is how – as a modern woman – you make sense of her behaviour. It's her wedding day, and she's suddenly about to run off with someone else [Don Giovanni]. The only solution is to think as they would have thought in the original period, when, if a nobleman snapped his fingers, any young peasant girl – even a bride – would come running. And her lover would understand it too." Verisimilitude in this show, she says, is helped by the way Keenlyside is presenting his Don: "He is doing his 'La ci darem la mano' aria so gently and seductively that he becomes everything her betrothed is not – he's offering her all these things she's only dreamed of – and for four minutes she just forgets. Then she wakes up again – 'What have I done?'"
Persson – in person – is so feisty that one can see her problem: she's never been a compromiser, and at one point in her studies walked out of the singing game altogether because she objected to the rigid orthodoxy one of her tutors sought to impose. "Here you stand, and there you can put one hand on the piano," she says in a malicious imitation of her recital technique. "So I stopped singing and started to study law and social science, until another tutor persuaded me to enter a competition which I won, and pleaded with me to go on singing."
Now based in Lewes, East Sussex, she'd love to sing more in her native land, but given that her diary is full until 2011, and that the Swedes have a penchant for last-minute planning, that's not very likely.
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