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The ROH put together an extremely high quality cast for this performance. Their Donna Elvira is Joyce Didonato, who in general causes me to grin like an idiot whenever she appears on stage, and this case is no exception. Donna Elvira makes a grand entrance standing on a litter and followed by an entourage; she’s wearing a ragged-looking wedding dress, has a shotgun slung over one shoulder and surveys the scene before her through a spyglass, which she snaps closed in irritation at not finding what she’s after. “A chi me dice mai” is performed in a way that is perfectly of a piece with this entrance. Big and grand and ever so slightly weird. It’s great. DiDonato conveys the bizarrely humorous aspects of this character perfectly (this is evident again in the entrance right before “non ti fidar, o misera”).
But there’s more to it than that. The recitative right before “mi tradì” in Act II is really lovely, both her performance and the orchestral playing, and I really enjoyed the aria itself – there was something restrained about it, in a good way. It’s as if Elvira at this point has exhausted that magnificent store of righteous rage – the contrast with the feel of “a chi me dice mai” is striking. Something has changed since the beginning of Act I. And when Elvira shows up at Don Giovanni’s house near the end of Act II, it feels like a natural consequence of “mi tradì”. (The stage direction also has Elvira clutching her stomach at several points as if the events were making her feel slightly ill, and I wasn’t sure what to make of that, but this is a tiny enough thing that I think it basically doesn’t matter.) Also, the feel of “mi tradì” is a bit different from normal because Donna Elvira is not by herself. Anna and Zerlina appear in order to sympathize with and comfort her.
I found Marina Poplavskaya’s Donna Anna hard to get a read on sometimes – but I always find this character a little puzzling. Parts of this performance sound really lovely, e.g. the way the softer phrases in “non mi dir” seem to sort of float in the air. But I was a little distracted trying to figure out what was going on dramatically. Anna looks really thrilled during the part in Act I when she’s describing to Ottavio how, “twisting and turning” she eluded her attacker – it’s as if the physical process of escape was somehow a turn-on. I can see this making sense, but there’s not much else in the production for it to make sense along with, so I’m not sure what it adds up to.
The rest of the cast does not disappoint – Miah Persson in particular is a lovely Zerlina. But I didn’t enjoy this performance of the opera as a whole as much as I feel like I ought to.
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