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Subject: SF "Don Giovanni"
From: Max Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Max Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Fri, 23 Jun 2017 23:00:18 -0700
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The main news: spectacular singing and charisma from the Don and Leporello. Handsome, powerful, high decibel, high intensity singing from Ildebrando D'Arcangelo (Don Giovanni) and Erwin Schrott (Leporello). Whatever else happened or didn't, a great evening just because of those two. Singing together or heaving shafts of sound at each other, they were thrilling.
 
Erwin Schrott is adorable. Marco Vinco was scheduled and having Schrott make his belated SFO debut now was like checking in for economy and finding you got double upgraded to first. By far the best Leporello I've ever seen; beautiful voice of wide range (tonally and dynamically), handsome, sexy, has a way of moving and using facial expressions that put most operatic "actors" to shame and laugh-out-loud funny. A really fine contemporary take on classic buffo.
 
D'Arcangelo started out somewhat stiff and his face was locked into a sour scowl for his first few scenes but then he relaxed physically and vocally and became a mesmerizing Don.
 
The production, consisting mostly of a set of glass panels that were sometimes mirrors, sometimes projections, was just annoying. Visually annoying and, worse, sonically annoying from the way the moving panels caused strange "in and out" reverberations of the singers, unlike nice flat hard surfaces that always help the voices project forward. Same sets as in 2011 with different staging. Fortunately they removed the bit during the Overture of showing Anna in bed with Giovanni and getting up furious that he hadn't "finished the job." There have long been controversies about Anna's true feelings and motivations, but I thought that explicit depiction of one interpretation was extremely tacky. On the downside this time: really dopey staging of Zerlina's "assault" in the Act 1 finale; people standing around waving their hands in a really ineffective manner.
 
I was really torn by conductor Marc Minkowski. He had intent and a statement of the music and he clearly got a sound that was different from the orchestra, but all of the inflection didn't, for me, provide compelling forward drive (damn, I miss Runnicles). It was somewhat like one of those annoying drivers you get stuck behind (or beside) on the freeway who speed up then slow down then speed up then slow down . . . So I missed the compelling line, yet singers still often seemed rushed.
 
Ana Maria Martinez quite good overall as Donna Elvira. Attractive lady (coiffed and costumed to look excessively matronly) with a fine, full, steady voice. She put some energy into making an interestingly kooky character, one mannerism being an excessive rolling of "r's" at the end of words and phrases. Can't help but notice that her voice has lost some resonance and glow, particularly on top, so that Elvira's high B-flats were there and solid but didn't really thrill. This was partially also because she let go of them as quickly as possible. I always remember Margaret Price's comment, after switching from Elvira to Anna, that she was glad to have seen the last of "that STINKING aria."
 
I wasn't overly impressed with Erin Wall or Stanslas de Barbeyrac, Anna and Ottavio. She was tall, blonde and impressive looking with a voice of some size and clarity but it got congested and shrill too easily. Wondering if she was going to be an "Or sai chi l'onore" Anna or a "Non mi dir" Anna, I found neither. She seriously ran out of steam in the first (her most powerful sounds being in the opening recit) and her voice cut completely out several times for a bar or two at a time in the florid section of the second and she had to substitute yelps for the staccati. Maybe just a bad night? San Francisco had been dealing with uncharacteristic high heat that day, so maybe some allowance is due.
 
Barbeyrac, with what seemed like good basic equipment and not a bad looking gay, was stiff, mincing, voice rather tight and therefore quavery. Neither he nor his Anna had the purity of intonation to make the Masker's Trio in the Act 1 finale the exquisite thing it can be.

In both their cases, hand wringing, grimaces and overall stock gestures; not much to make these characters distinctive or alive.
 
Andrea Silvestrelli, the wooly bass who's become San Francisco's resident "bad guy" (Wurm, Hunding, Hagen) was convincing and vocally strong as the Commendatore.
 
Sarah Shafer is a very petite pretty girl with a similarly petite pretty soprano voice for Zerlina. She's not the compelling figure Kate Lindsay made her last go round (to be fair, Lindsay was the best thing in the 2011 cast). She also seemed to me a couple of sizes too small vocally for this type of an opera house.

Max Paley
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