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The very lovely Joyce DiDonato, who I saw play Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni last year, slipped during a performance of The Barber of Seville at the Royal Opera House on the weekend and broke her leg.

DiDonato proved herself quite the trooper and finished the performance, first limping, then shuffling about with the help of a walking stick.  It wasn’t until after the show anyone realised the severity of the injury.  She’ll be singing the rest of the run from a wheelchair.

I got to London from Brighton at about midday on Wednesday, hoping to find a ticket to Don Giovanni that night. The Royal Opera website indicates that cheap returned tickets are available four hours before the performance, so I went along at three to try and get one after checking into my hotel. I didn’t have much luck. Apparently these are actually called standby tickets and while they theoretically exist the box office never has any to sell. Returned tickets are sold at the original price as soon as they come back. He said I would have a good chance of getting something if I came back at about six, as they usually got a few last minute returns. Or he said I could wait underneath the white banner (he pointed to the side of the corridor) and he would call me back when anything came in.

I decided not to loiter in the hallway for hours and instead walked over to the National Gallery to spend some quality time with Cézanne and Manet. The National Gallery is a magical place. I was just wandering around for what I thought was just a little while, but when I looked at my watch I had been there for two and a half hours and had to head back to Covent Garden.

National Gallery

Back at the box office a very nice woman told me that the cheapest returned ticket she had was a hundred and ninety pounds. I told her that I couldn’t quite spend that much and considered waiting with the little group of desperate looking people with backpacks that had congregated under the white banner (clearly they didn’t have a hundred and ninety pounds either). But I smiled and thanked her and said “That’s such a pity. I was so looking forward to seeing it.”

I’ve found over the past few days that grovelling to box office staff is well worth the effort. She tutted sympathetically and said she could take another look.

“No, no, no. Wait. Do you have twelve pounds fifty? I can see a standing room ticket here for you that just came in. It’s a very good place to stand too, no poles.”

So I thanked her profusely and bought the ticket. Although she did seem a little surprised that my name was already in the ROH database. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t overdo the ‘poor cultureless guttersnipe from the colonies’ act.

Before the performance an announcement was made:

“Unfortunately, Marina Poplavskaya is recovering from a severe respiratory infection [collective groan]. We are delighted that she will still be performing the role of Donna Anna [audience cheers], but she asks for your understanding. [slightly less audible groan].”

Opera audiences are funny. I didn’t notice any weakness in Poplavskaya’s voice, but I can imagine how difficult it must be as a singer to make the decision whether or not to perform when you don’t feel your voice is at its best.

The current cast:

Leporello: Kyle Ketelsen
Donna Anna: Marina Poplavskaya
Don Giovanni: Simon Keenlyside
Commendatore: Eric Halfvarson
Don Ottavio: Ramon Vargas
Donna Elvira: Joyce DiDonato
Zerlina: Miah Persson
Masetto: Robert Gleadow

(Conducted by Charles Mackerras)

It was a wonderful performance. Usually my favourite part of Don Giovanni is Donna Elvira’s ‘Ah, Chi Mi Dice Mai’ in the first act (and DiDonato sung it very well), but at this performance I was completely blown away by Miah Persson as Zerlina. Her voice was incredibly strong and clear. Kyle Ketelsen was also particularly good as Leporello.

The bad thing about standing room tickets is sore knees. The good thing about standing tickets (aside from affordability, of course) is you get to hang around with some interesting people. Almost as soon as the curtain went up on the second half a man to my left started yelling ‘I want my seat! I always find a seat by the second half!’ and running up and down the aisle until he was forcibly removed from the auditorium.

The design of the production was traditional. Fairly static in the first half, but with plenty of stage lifts, flaming hellfire and swinging hands of judgment in the second. In that respect this production makes an interesting comparison to Opera Australia’s modern Don designed by Elke Neidhardt currently on at the Sydney Opera house. The OA production has modern costume and abstract sets (not a problem in itself), but with several cuts. So Don Giovanni, serial seducer (1003 women in Spain alone) does not refuse to repent in the face of commands from the ghostly spirit of the man he’s killed. He gets high and dies. These young people. They like the drugs. Apparently.

Unlike the OA version, this production kept the final sextet where the other main characters have a lovely little sing-song telling the audience to learn from the mistakes of Don Giovanni and be good. But just because a performance is faithful to the original score doesn’t mean it has to be too serious about the morality lecture at the end. After the final note in this production the curtain rose to reveal a devilish red lacquered box inside which Don Giovanni stood naked with a naked woman in his arms.* Heaven would be no fun for the Don.

Tickets for the first performance of Don Giovanni last week were sold through an offer in The Sun newspaper, all for thirty pounds or less. A bus full of page three girls was stationed at Covent Garden to hand out cast sheets. According to a report in The Guardian on Wednesday the young audience was more formally dressed than at those attending regular performances, better behaved (no mobile phones went off, there was no exodus at interval) and applauded the performance very enthusiastically. If readers of The Sun can enjoy a traditional unabridged performance of Don Giovanni, I don’t see why Opera Australia had to try so hard to make it relevant to modern audiences.

Don Giovanni
Mozart

Royal Opera House
10/09/08.

*More than one person has stumbled across this blog by searching google for ‘nude opera’ and ‘naked + opera’. Naturally I’m thrilled. With any luck this will become one of the world’s best blogs on nude opera. Although I’m not sure what sort of competition I have in this endeavour and I really don’t want to find out.

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