mon 18/12/2017

Don Giovanni, Classical Opera, Page, Cadogan Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Don Giovanni, Classical Opera, Page, Cadogan Hall

Don Giovanni, Classical Opera, Page, Cadogan Hall

A dramatic account, demonstrating that period instruments can still surprise in Mozart

Don Giovanni by Classical Opera. A young cast, all convincing in their rolesAll images: Benjamin Ealovega

Mozart operas on period instruments – it’s hardly a new idea, but it’s still the exception rather than the rule. The 18th–century sound has a lot to offer in Don Giovanni, as Ian Page and his Classical Opera Company demonstrated this evening. Clear string tone and vibrant woodwind colours were the order of the day. There was plenty of drama too, with Page expertly pacing the narrative and drawing an impressive and often robust tone from his modest forces. He also assembled a fine cast, no superstars here but rather a well-balanced and well-integrated ensemble. The result was a compelling reading, and a concert performance that never felt lacking in drama for want of staging.

The period instrument sound was most arresting in the overture, with the opening chords all attack and buzz. Reedy bassoons and shallow timpani predominated, these the edgy sounds that modern strings usually smooth. As the first act got under way, the orchestral tone became rounder, though no more conventional, allowing Page to apply weight to the climaxes. This, combined with his excellent sense of pacing, led to some real impact at the conclusions to each of the acts. The wooden floor of Cadogan Hall even vibrated in sympathy with the bass through the act I finale, a rare occurrence in the period performance world.

Page assembled an impressive cast, mostly young but all convincing in their roles. At the heart of the ensemble was the pairing of Jacques Imbrailo (pictured above) as the Don and David Soar as Leporello. Imbrailo is a little light of tone, and he sometimes lacks menace – he’s always more seductive than sinister, but he dominates the stage, despite his small frame. He has a beautiful tone as well, and excellent diction. Soar has a more robust bass, but it is similarly smooth and lyrical. Although this was unstaged, the two acted together throughout, and the interaction, physical and musical, always felt natural. Soar was a late addition to the cast (replacing an indisposed Darren Jeffrey), so much of this was probably spontaneous. Three excellent singers in the female lead roles: Ellie Laugharne has a direct, pure tone as Zerlina, Helen Sherman brings fine coloratura to the role of Donna Elvira, and Ana Maria Labin has a dark, complex vocal colour as Donna Anna – perfect casting all round in other words. David Shipley’s Commendatore and Stuart Jackson’s Don Ottavio were both serviceable, though neither stood out. Bradley Travis (pictured below, with Ellie Laugharne), on the other hand, was an excellent Masetto, with distinctive tone and plenty of projection. A frustratingly small role for such a promising voice.

Microphones were set up to record the concert, no doubt for a future release in Classical Opera’s Mozart series on the Signum label. The opera was performed in its original Prague version of 1787, and while no artistic rationale was offered for using this shorter score, it may have been to ensure it squeezes onto two CDs. But no matter, the recording promises to be special. The live experience felt impressively dramatic and narrative, and primarily though how these qualities were conveyed through the music. The rich and diverse colours of the orchestra should also transfer well to audio recording. Don Giovanni is hardly a stranger to disc, but this one should definitely be worth hearing.

The period instrument sound was most arresting in the overture, the opening chords all attack and buzz

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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