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Riding Through the Gates of Hell

New York
Rose Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center
08/17/2017 -  & August 9, 11, 12 (Edinburgh), 19, 20 (New York), September 21, 23, 24 (Budapest), 2017
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni, K. 527
Christopher Maltman (Don Giovanni), Laura Aikin (Donna Anna), Zoltán Megyesi (Don Ottavio), Lucy Crowe (Donna Elvira), José Fardilha (Leporello), Sylvia Schwartz (Zerlina), Kristinn Sigmundsson (Commendatore), Matteo Peirone (Masetto)
Budapest Festival Orchestra, Iván Fischer (conductor and director)

I. Fischer

“Well I never been to Spain
But I kinda like the music”
Three Dog Night
“He is a villain with a keen sense of humour; inexcusable in real life, possible only in comedy and represented at the first performance, one should not forget, by a youth no more than twenty-two years old!”
Lord Harewood

When last we encountered Iván Fischer he had a “flash mob” of music students run onto the Lincoln Center stage and “assist” his Budapest Festival Orchestra in intoning the final passages of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. Now he is back with a semi-concert version of this extraordinary Mozart opera with “minimal staging” conceived and executed by maestro. The pre-concert atmosphere was palpable with the promise of Fischer being Fischer.

This reviewer was in attendance six years ago when this production was given its New York premiere. At that time I wrote (for another cyber magazine):
“Before and during the performance, a troupe of sixteen young people, all dressed in gray and pancaked in the same hue – think Jack Haley in The Wizard of Oz – arranged themselves in various tableaux vivant that sometimes seemed relevant to the story and sometimes did not. Were they scenery, characters, chorus in dumbshow, or gimmick? At one point in Act II the phrase ‘"you people look like Hell" could be taken as a compliment. To quote Lawrence, they ‘"pour themselves one over the other like so much melted butter over parsnips".”

Loyalty means quite a lot and this cast was almost identical to the one in 2011. José Fardilha as Leporello established a fine comic tone with “Notte e giorno faticar” and stole the show with the “list aria”. Laura Aikin’s Donna Anna was blessed with both a strong and a beautiful voice, making her “Or sai chi l’onore” one of the high points of the evening, and the Zoltán Megyesi portrayal of Don Ottavio, especially his “Dalla sua pace” was stronger than most in vocal memory.

Christopher Maltman (the Don) and Sylvia Schwartz (Zerlina) were a melodious pair for “Là ci darem la mano”, but overall Maltman was a bit disappointing and dispirited. His metamorphosis into a statue himself, with all others slithering to immolate him as an ending, was oddly and atavistically satisfying. Others, including Lucy Crowe’s Donna Elvira, with a less than satisfying “Ah! chi mi dice mai” and Matteo Peirone as Masetto, churning out a characterless “Ho capito, signor, si” were mild disappointments.

As always, the orchestra under Fischer was the undisputed highlight of the show. A smallish group, they turned and twisted to their leader’s every move with amazing precision, superb phrasing and just the right amounts of modesty and sardonic humor. I sat upstairs and found myself looking mostly down at these fine musicians with just the correct degrees of respect and appreciation. Throw in just a touch of the sardonic and you have a great recipe for instrumental accompaniment.

Veteran Twilight Zone watchers who remember Anne Francis as a department store mannequin who leaves the premises to experience the real world in the episode “The After Hours” will have some inkling of this interpretation of the statue come to life. In typical Rod Serling fashion, our New York subway crisis has been dubbed “The Summer of Hell”. It was not terribly pleasant to face the trip home after such a stark re-creation.

Fred Kirshnit



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