Ah, chi mi dice mai / DiDonato / Röschmann

Two versions of one of my favorite parts of Don Giovanni, “Ah, chi mi dice mai . . .Madamina, il catalogo e questo.” The first is Dorothea Roschmann (Donna Elvira) and Erwin Schrott (Leporello) at Salzburg in 2008. The second is Joyce DiDonato and Kyle Ketelsen at the Royal Opera also in 2008.

Technically these two performances are of a similar quality. The primary differences are characterization and the relationship between Donna Elvira and everything else that is or is not going on onstage at the time. Röschmann’s Elvira is wounded and furious and a little bit fragile and almost frantic with the intensity of her feelings. She stresses “l’empio” and “scempio” (the impious one / destruction) and the “si” before “gli vo’ cavare il cor” (“I’ll rip his heart out”). Röschmann’s got a kind of growly-sounding lower register and you get a little taste of it here – it’s quite effective.

Finally, the aria is presented as a monologue – Elvira thinks she is alone. When she hears Don Giovanni’s “Signorina . . .” she looks startled, and the “chi e la?” (“who’s there?”) is suddenly timid (it sounds like she sings “chi en va” which means nothing in Italian, but hey, whatever). The overall impression is of an inward looking person forced to a point of crisis and doing things she would not normally do. The look on her face at “voi sapete quel che fa” (“you know what he does”) during Leporello’s catalog aria is perfect – she doesn’t even want to think about what he’s telling her. (Also, I love the flute at that moment.)

DiDonato’s Elvira is a little different. She stalks in with a shotgun (this is Donna Elvira from Burgos by way of Cold Mountain). This Elvira is extroverted, more physically aggressive, just as weird but in a less vulnerable way. Things roll off her a little easier. “Ah, chi mi dice mai” is declaimed rather than asked; DiDonato comes down harder on the consonants; the character is speaking to everyone else around. The point is to garner sympathy, not collect her thoughts; when she gets to “chi e la?” she’s not surprised, just asking what the stranger wants. Partly this is the effect of the production: while Salzburg Elvira is alone, this Elvira has an entourage. The ‘l’empio’ as well as “gli vo’ cavare il cor” is a little softer, as is the repeat of the “a chi mi dice mai”. DiDonato’s Elvira is royally pissed off, but there’s less of the ‘so deeply hurt she feels it all over again whenever she thinks about it’ that Roschmann communicates. Finally, I love the look on DiDonato/Elvira’s face when she finds her own entry in Don Giovanni’s notebook. DiDonato’s Elvira is less wrenching than Roschmann’s, but in some ways more fun.