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Don Giovanni outside the walls at the Liceu in Barcelona

Marc Minkowski exports to the vast hall of the Liceu the Mozart/Da Ponte Trilogy concocted with his accomplice Ivan Alexandre, created between 2015 and 2016 at the Slottsteater in Drottningholm and performed since in Versailles and partly in Toulouse (the pandemic prevented a Bordeaux performance in 2020, postponed to June 2022). If the trestle theater does not adapt ideally to the immense Catalan hall, the original vision of Ivan Alexandre and the role of Alexandre Duhamel in Don Giovanni were sufficient magnets for us to attend. The fiery direction of the French chef shook an audience that was rather cold at first.

A proven but rather unequivocal concept

The production is now quite well known: the theater in the theater ofIvan Alexandrein the decor of trestles ofAnthony Fontaine, takes the side of a return to the recipes of the theater of the 17th century, which here leans rather on the side of burlesque farce, and avenges us for so many productions where the work was weighed down by an excessively tragic approach, where the protagonist, against the backdrop of an almost metaphysical vision, faced the wind from the beyond by slipping dangerously towards Mephistopheles. Don Giovanni is not Mozart’s Dom Juan, he is a vivacious, a pleasure seeker who hides his face and does not want to see the harm he is doing, he tricks and deceives with a volubility and a joy that one can resemble Sganarelle’s finery, even if ultimately, in front of the Commander, he drops his mask and faces his destiny without batting an eyelid.

This vision of a great pleasure-seeker in perpetual motion, more of a Leporello double than Leporello is a double of him, has the merit of refreshing the character and of associating itself ideally with the all-flame direction of Marc Minkowski. It therefore has the faults of its qualities: the protagonist perhaps does not acquire all the thickness desired in this mad, albeit dark, day, especially since the costume does not help him: if the crimson frock coat which serves as The symbolic link between the nascent lively Cherub and the disillusioned cynical Alfonso suits him well. This has the advantage of linking Leporello and his master more closely: the latter gives his valet a kiss after ” Come on, fool », and we feel a certain confusion at the end of the first act, after the cries of Zerline have aroused everyone, when they gradually approach, Leporello on the ground with his back to the public and Don Giovanni above him, the sword across his neck, in an almost fusional act. But sensuality is not at the heart of the concept, and it ends up missing. We will pass over a few trivialities (the list of Leporello tattooed all over his body, even on his posterior that Elvira discovers to read everything during the air of the catalog), all of which can be tasted without bitterness, with excellent ideas: the Commander moved into the room during the cemetery scene, the permanent use of the sides of the main portico to show us the characters when they are not on stage, the equally relevant use of the trapdoor under the stage for the moments when the duo of seducers achieves its ends with its conquests, and some very symbolic moments such as during the banquet, when Don Giovanni on his knees breaks a loaf of bread above his head in an iconoclastic gesture, or when in the final scene with the Commander, he seems to be flying with his arms crossed in a Christic pastiche, before being swallowed up by a white sheet in the form of a shroud. Because everything here is only symbolic and nothing is realistic: the peasant choristers around Zerline are reduced to their bare minimum (eight), and have nothing of the peasant about them; the dishes are made of metal, and the wine does not really flow on them. Once admitted the ideally artificial bias that wants a character to sing in front of the public to speak to another who is on the trestles behind his back, we let ourselves be carried away by this regressive concept, which has as real defect only to be sometimes a little systematic: Ottavio like Anna speak too often to a sword turned upside down in crucifix, and the treatment of these characters who are less suitable for the option funny remains more conventional and less strong, unlike that of Elvira, in a rather refreshing androgynous traveler’s costume, while Alexandre has the good idea to return to the choice of a single singer for Masetto and the Commander, as during the creation of the work. The Commander who wears a mask of a skull such as one saw in the 17th century fairground theatre, a mask worn by the protagonists of the trio known as masks at the end of the first act, and the choristers on stage during the death of Don Giovanni. As for Leporello, he has never twirled around so much, a true commedia dell’arte character, who does a lot, but in a setting that allows it.

Arianna Venditelli (Donna Elvira), Alix Le Saux (Zerlina), Robert Gleadow (Leporello), Alex Rosen (Masetto), Iulia Maria Dan (Donna Anna)

The symbolic force of the concept, however, bears the indelible mark of the place for which it was imagined: the small wooden theater in Drottningholm, where it ideally belonged. Transposed in the Barcelona vessel, it needs wooden legs to be adapted to a much larger stage, and nothing in the portico supports the projection of the singers, who sometimes get lost in the large Catalan hall, which is not lacking not to disturb an audience accustomed to great voices supported by an appropriate decor. It’s not the silk curtains that will help them for that: so this Don Giovanni finds himself a bit like a fish out of water in this context. And the reunited distribution does not shine completely by its homogeneity.

A distribution that lacks homogeneity

French tenor Julien Henric was making his debut as Ottavio as well as his Liceu debut. What to impress more than one. Its clean and smooth singing does not really pull the character out of the convention where it is too often encumbered, except in a ” My treasure » finally relaxed, colorful, and endowed with a bit of the panache we expected (the choice of the Prague version deprives it of « From its peace« ).

Alix le Saux is a delicate and suave Zerline, and if the tone lacks a bit of the expected flesh and depth, the artist is probably not in top form. His two arias are finely crafted, and his duet with Don Giovanni very delicately posed.

The cast’s big disappointment is the Romanian soprano’s Anna Iulia Maria Dan, whose beautiful silhouette and very invested acting do not make up for the inadequacy of the voice to the means of the role: the bass is limited, and especially the treble very barely. If it deludes at the beginning of the work, ” Now you know who the honor » reveals the difficulty, that « Don’t tell me ” brings even more cruelly to light, and it will then unbalance the sets with its difficult treble.

In contrast, the young American Alex Rosen (replacing Leonard Bernad) is a Masetto full of youthful ardour, with a well-emitted and articulated bass voice, colorful and balanced, and to whom it falls the honor of composing a Commander of excellent craftsmanship, never pushing his instrument, bringing a real breath of the beyond on the set and in the room (it is to bet that many spectators did not understand that it was about the same singer before the salutes where he takes off his mask of dead).

Arianna Venditelli is a seductive discovery in Elvira: far from the frozen poses of so many tearful noble women, the Roman soprano composes a leading woman, full of inner strength and capacity for forgiveness, in an androgynous costume of the most beautiful effect. Vocally, she plays with the pitfalls of a most tricky role. The timbre is warm and luminous, the deviations of the range perfectly assumed, the bass is colorful and the treble very sure, the projection remarkable and the Italian superlative. A performance worthy of praise.

Robert Gleadow (Leporello), Alex Rosen (Masetto)

Robert Gleadow is a special case: the voice is no longer as homogeneous as it was, the bass remains very colorful and projected (which makes it essential in ensembles where the bass role plays a large part). But, the voice resting on this bass, the midrange and the treble lose color and capacity for projection. The Canadian bass-baritone compensates for this fact with a thousand vocal gesticulations that please the spectator more than the listener. He is full of invention in these pranks, and the boiling buffo actor fits well with the director’s conception, but the voice lover will remain unsatisfied.

Stay Alexandre Duhamel, who did his role here while also singing Don Alfonso alternately. His powerful and clearly emitted baritone allows him to color the song at will thanks to a legato of school. Its ends of sentences are delicately posed, thanks to a flexible emission, and the vocal nuances (the frequent recourse to the half voice) ideally follow text-based intentions. His ” andiam » whispered at the end of « There we will give us our hand », Le« I seem to touch gincata is to smell roses » so delicate in the preceding recitative, his incredible serenade of sweetness (with very relevant apocopes as in « sugar ”) form the complex portrait of the long-toothed seducer (what psychological finesse in “ amuse me Facing Elvira!), Threatening Masetto, resolutely facing the Commander (a ” will you come to dinner? of remarkable power). He even goes so far as to interpolate an F sharp in “I want to have fun », and adds a low A in the scene of the commander. Here is a beautiful portrait of mockerfor a role, that the French baritone will be able to polish in Bordeaux then Versailles in the same production.

A fiery management but with a rare finesse

The big winner of the evening, however, is Marc Minkowski at the head of the Catalan phalanx. It is not for nothing that the French conductor began his career with Handel: he was one of the best heirs of the Baroque revolution, and his management knows how to draw admirable advantage from it. Of course, we are far from the true Mozartian staff in the pit, but precisely, Minkowski knows how to lighten the sound paste, and obtains a rather incredible balance of the desks, the strings never taking precedence over the woodwinds (oboes and bassoons in the lead), the brass always restrained and soft. The conductor’s gesture is dancing, the rhythm wildly disheveled, from the opening taken at a fiery tempo, which runs over the essential of the work. It goes without saying that many scenes will be enlivened, refreshed, enlightened. It’s a degreased Mozart, but not lighter, dancing, spruce that he offers us, like a crazy day looking like a joyous race to the abyss. The strings, of course, virtuosic and of tremendous precision, play a full part in this success, and rarely have we heard many of the features devolved to the double basses, brilliantly highlighted here. We can even say that never Beat, beat did not seem so much like a concerto for cellos and voices! Throughout the evening, the theater is born first of all from the orchestra, which defines the space and the tempo, as we have rarely experienced, without the volume ever taking precedence over the finesse of the textures and the clarity of the rhythms. This design only has the flaw of pushing singers to their limits in terms of articulation (as in ” Fin ch’han dal vino » which, alas, is too fast as tradition dictates), except at a few moments when the conductor relaxes, as in « There, we will shake hands », delicious in largo (although the tempo foreseen by Mozart is that of a minuet, so rarely heard). We regret on the margin the use of an incongruous pianoforte in the orchestral parts, and the absence of a small breath between the tunes: a second is sometimes enough to avoid an overly systematic feeling of drunkenness.

Despite a cast that lacks balance, and a concept that marks its limits a little, we leave the gleaming hall of the Gran Teatro del Liceu delighted, enlivened by the direction of Marc Minkowski, with a hair-raising vitality. Because he is undoubtedly the pearl of this trilogy, to which he breathes an irresistible momentum.

Visuals: © David Ruano

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