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The concept of this production is used to really interesting effect at several points. One of my favorite partes is “batti, batti, bel Masetto,” which Zerlina (Martina Janková) sings not to Masetto, but alone. She’s at the bar and looks genuinely sad – the aria is not a wheedling “you’re not really mad, baby, are you?” number but rather an expression of frustration.
Or perhaps not. Zerlina makes not one drink, but two – and toward the end there is a sudden change in mood as Masetto turns up, but it happens before Zerlina even catches sight of him. Perhaps she knew he was going to be there all along, and it was all play-acting? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, I was struck by how the cello part in this aria seems to belong to both moods, and to be somehow appropriate for the setting.
The other thing that I noticed about this performance is related to casting. Often in this opera, Elvira and Anna are singers with fairly distinct sounds – sometimes a mezzo sings Elvira. Here, we’ve got Hartelius (Elvira) and Mei (Anna) who though distinct, are not as distinct as, say, Dorothea Röschmann and Annette Dasch or Lorraine Hunt and Dominique Labelle. In ensembles, e.g. the Ottavio/Elvira/Anna trio towards the end of Act I, the two of them together have this very bright, silvery sort of sound; the same is true but a little more so when Janková is added to the mix, as in the ensemble at the very end of that act. I’m not sure whether this was the intention, but having women whose voices mesh together in this way reinforces the “1950s style distinct gender roles” vibe of the production. It’s worth noting that in the scene in Act I where Don Giovanni is trying to convince Ottavio and Anna that Elvira is nuts, there’s a moment when Elvira and Anna are seated together on the sofa talking and Ottavio and Giovanni are standing together a little ways away – the staging evokes 20th century social gatherings.
There are performances of Eva Mei’s that I’ve liked – Konstanze in Die Entführung and Sandrina in La Finta Giardiniera to name two. Here I’m on the fence. Then again, this is Donna Anna, which is one of those roles that is a little bit bizarre, dramatically – one is never quite sure what she’s about, and based on the way the music sounds, Anna often comes across as a little bit under- (or over-) medicated. Part of the issue is that many productions load as much ambiguity as possible into whatever happened between her and Don Giovanni. I am not against ambiguity (after all, the line where she says she thought it was Ottavio in her room and was disappointed suggests that Anna is not exactly getting everything she wants out of that relationship but perhaps is reluctant to admit it) but often it’s closer to “we’re going to make this so ambiguous it makes no sense!” or “hey, a woman lied about being raped because she felt bad about wanting the guy she said raped her!” which is not edgy or daring, but is in fact a fairly stupid and obnoxious cliche. As a result, this character is often extremely difficult to pin down as far as drama is concerned. I have yet to see a performance of this role that makes me think “yeah! now I get it!” Mei’s performance here has some nice moments, e.g. “non me dir” which had a dramatic force to it that some of the previous sections did not – but I can’t say I really loved it.
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