The return of Scottish Opera to the Theatre Royal was marked by, among other things, an immense thunderstorm that made the lights flicker. It was perhaps a good accompaniment to Don Giovanni's trip to hell, but you hoped it was not also a disastrous omen for the company, which so far has no successor to Richard Armstrong as music director. Things are still make-or-break after its notorious "dark" year.
It would be good to say that this performance has put the company back on the map. It should have, with Tim Albery as director - he produced the magnificent Scottish Ring - and Armstrong returning to conduct.
Much was promising. The set, designed by Tobias Hoheisel, was an arrangement of dark red curtains, with a row of doors opening on the unexpected. The atmosphere tended to be dark. There was a good deal of standing still. The men looked like toffs in evening dress or trade unionists, the women had traditional Mozartian long dresses - except for the chorus, who had apparently escaped from a teenage club.
The chief problem lay with the casting. Giovanni himself was Peter Savidge, dignified and stylish, but he was unwell and could not really sing his lyric items, "Là ci darem la mano" and "Deh vieni". James Rutherford, as Leporello, worked hard and sang with an abundant baritone, but had no sense of humour; his best feature was clarity of diction. Matthew Best was a grim Commendatore; however, the part needs a bass, not Best's dramatic-lyric tones.
Henriikka Gröndahl was oddly cast as Donna Elvira. Without any fire or brilliance, she pictured the betrayed girl as a poignant victim. You felt for her. "Mi tradì" had no anger; the singer's fluent roulades became caresses, laments. Don Ottavio (Hilton Marlton) was a tenore di grazia, with an eager tone, exquisite and light, but he sang flat.
Caitlin Hulcup as Zerlina was powerful, mezzoish. This peasant girl clearly did heavy work on the land. She dominated the scene. As for her Masetto (D'Arcy Bleiker), he was clearly henpecked, in spite of his sonorous delivery.
The happy exception was Maria Costanza Nocentini as Donna Anna. She sang like a lark and portrayed perfectly the agonised, selfrighteous woman. Her coloratura was a bit laborious, but every note sparkled.
Armstrong's tempos were hard to predict - breathless or measured - but they always worked. And, thank goodness, the Scottish Opera orchestra has retained its premier class through the silent period. So much was good about Albery's Giovanni. But it didn't add up.
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