So I have this awesome cool teacher in college who is also a musical critic for one of the most important newspapers in São Paulo. And he gave us a task, to write a review/critic about any sort of musical event and present it alongside with the video or audio of the piece chosen. I was lost, I wanted to write about opera but was so afraid, at that time I’d only been 1 or 2 months in my total conversion to opera.I felt I knew nothing and that my brilliant teacher would crush me since he is THE opera critic of the city. Then an idea dawned on me, let’s look for a topic in these fantastic opera blogs, they know what they are talking about!
So that’s when I stumbled upon The Earworm’s post about the different performances by Dorothea Röschmann and Joyce DiDonato of Don Giovanni’s Donna Elvira. At the time I had no idea who Joyce was, that was actually the first thing I saw her in. I’m gonna get a bit off topic here and say it makes me cry every time I think about the fact that she came to Brasil, she sang in Sala São Paulo, she talked and took pictures with my friends, and I didn’t go, ‘cause I didn’t even know she existed. And once I got to know her work and her initiative to help young singers (yes, I’ve watched ALL her videos) and to connect with them and with the fans she became my superstar inspiration for my life. And it just hurts to think she was close and I didn’t even know. I feel very stupid.
Back on topic, this is going to be a huge post! I wrote the review and to my utter and complete surprise my teacher realy seemed to like it! I got an A! I was stunned and very happy! And then he told me that he had critiqued the Metropolitan’s Opening Night of Don Giovanni last year, and I was just gap faced.
Without further ado, let’s get down to business, here is my critic:
“They all want Blood” (Todas Querem Sangue)
One of the most famous operas written by the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791) is Don Giovanni. It tells a story of nobleman whose life objective is to nail as many women as he possibly can. At the opera we accompany Don Giovanni during one day and get to meet three women that he tricked; Donna Anna, from whom he escapes after seducing in the first scene, Donna Elvira, a noblewoman from Burgos with whom he promised to marry but ran off, and Zerlina, a country girl who’s engaged to be married at that day and but is convinced by him to run off.
One of the most intriguing characters in Don Giovanni is Donna Elvira who up until the very end of the tale believes that Don Giovanni can change and that they will be together. Her first scene in the opera she sings the aria “Ah chi mi dice mai” can be interpreted in many different ways. The two performances I’ll be comparing have the same great performatic quality, what sets them apart is the characterization of the said character and its relationship with everything that is happening on stage.
In the London Royal Opera House production of 2008 with Joyce DiDonato, north-american mezzo soprano, Donna Elvira is more furious than upset. That can be told not only by her posture but by her articulation where she conveys absolute confidence, while she holding on to her gun and tells everyone around her how she’s going to rip off the heart (“Gli vo’ cavare il cor”) of the man who abandoned her.
Now for Dorothea Röschmann, german soprano, at the Salzburg Festival also in 2008 it’s completely different. Donna Elvira is alone, slightly fragil, vulnerable, lost, scared and getting uneasy with the mixture if these emotions. The aria has a completely different feeling to it, she makes the aria sound almost like a lament, as if she didn’t have any hope of finding him. Even when she talks about meeting him again (“Ah, se ritrovo l’empio”) she doesn’t seem to believe that is going to happen.
Röschmann’s interpretation carries as much hatred as DiDonato’s but it’s clear she’s much more emotionally distraught because of him. That becomes quite clear when Don Giovanni finally reveals himself (“Signorina?”). While DiDonato’s Elvira goes on confident to investigate the stranger’s identity and promptly jails him when she sees who it is, Röschmann seems to be getting more scared by the second but when she sees to whom that voice belongs she lets out all of her rage throwing whatever she can find on his direction. The almost murdering glint that DiDonato carries in her eyes when she sees him is inspiring but the flames of hatred that come out of Röschmann’s eyes are just as appropriate.
One thing that both performers carried was that in their own different ways they were in search of Don Giovanni. This, of course, is much more clear in the London production since she’s quite literally hunting him down, but even in the German production Elvira seems to be looking for someone.
Neither of the sets are what we can call traditional, but both performers capture the essence of this character perfectly, a proud and determined woman who is at the end of the day crazy for Don Giovanni (in every sense of the word ‘crazy’). Röschmann conveys that with her expressions of repulse and doubt, where she seems to be thinking “What am I doing here?” as if she had a bit of sanity left. But DiDonato has completely given in to her mad love and crazy vengeance. That is quite clear since she keeps on believing him even though he always runs away.
The incontrollable love for Don Giovanni blinds Donna Elvira who even after being tricked and fooled so many times still sings the beatiful “Mi tradi quella alma ingrata” at the second act. In which she tells how even though he betrayed oh so many times and makes her so very miserable she can’t help but feel worried about his fate. Up until the end she believes he can change, but when he mistreats her yet again she runs away and decides to join a convent after learning about his death.
So that's that, I love Donna Elvira and one day I'll play her, mark my words. But for now I'll have to settle for Zerlina ;/