In the Opus Arte live recording of a 2019 Royal Opera House performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni one could spot on the accompanying leaflet the name of Emanuel Schikaneder listed as the librettist of the (last time I checked) Mozart-Da Ponte collaboration.

If only that were all!

The Danish director Kasper Holten is responsible for a staging so chockfull of wrong-headed directorial choices that it leaves one at a loss for words.

In Holten’s world all women are oversexed and devoid of any moral fiber. In Holten’ world there is obviously no need to mask anybody, neither the Don and Leporello when they switch identities, nor the Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, Don Ottavio visit to the Ball at the end of Act One. In Holten’s world there is no need to provide the supper table repeatedly alluded to in the text as essential for the final outcome, where Don Giovanni is neither confronted by the statue of the Commendatore nor dragged down to hell. In Holten’s world there is no need to hear and see Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, Don Ottavio, Zerlina, Masetto and Leporello wrap things up at the end of the opera.

Donna Anna (Malin Byström) begs for more of whatever she was getting from the Don (Edwin Schrott) when the curtain goes up on Es Devlin’s all-purpose, where-the hell-are-we-anyway set.

Moments later her father (Petros Magoulas), comes out dressed in a nightgown, knife in hand, and a bit later he is lying down, dead.

We next meet Donna Elvira (Myrto Papatanasiou) looking for the deadbeat Don Giovanni, whom she soon meets and, at the mere touch of his hand, is ready to forgive all past transgressions. Zerlina (Louise Alter), who has just wed Masetto (Leon Košavić) is good for a quickie and is soon caught by Donna Elvira in extra-marital flagrante delicto (I’ll spare the not-fit-for-mixed-company details of the Don’s sexual preferences).

Throughout this dramatic ménage-a-trois all three of the sopranos manage to maintain their dignity in spite of the director’s caprices. Malin Byström is a superb, beautiful Donna Anna, dispatching both Or sai chi l’onore and Non mi dir with great style and generosity of tone. Myrto Papatanasiou makes a sympathetic Elvira, singing very well the awkwardly difficult Mi tradi quell’ alma. ingrata. Louise Alter delivers a well-sung Zerlina and is pretty as a picture.

The supporting roles of the Commendatore and Masetto are both well cast: Petros Magoulas a sonorous avenger, Leon Košavić a handsome, savvy peasant. Daniel Behle brings more voice and personality than most tenors to the ungrateful part of Don Ottavio.

In the key roles of Leporello (Roberto Tagliavini) and Don Giovanni (Edwin Schrott) the casting falters. While both these basses are fine singers in their own right and have built interesting careers singing a varied repertory, neither one has the Mozartian style, and the sense of humor and lightness of touch vocally and dramatically to satisfy the demands of these two iconic roles.

Hartmut Haencher capably leads the Royal Opera House Orchestra.

The come-as-you-are costumes are a mixed bag of bad design that leave one wondering if this was Da Ponte’s Seville or another location north of Spain, which is where I understand Mr. Holten has retired to.

Rafael de Acha                  ALL ABOUT THE ARTS  


The good people at NEUMA RECORDS ( just sent us three CD’s about to be released later this early-Spring month of March of 2002.

The music of composer Nick Vasallo is excellently represented in the compellingly titled APOPHANY.

Several ensembles do very well by Vasallo’s eclectically varied music: some of it acoustic, some electronic, some a mix of both.

The CD’s nine tracks bear titles that hint at the sometimes turbulent, sometimes peaceful music therein. Ein Sof features the University of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra at full sonic throttle, and When the War Began uses the forces of the terrific Redshift Ensemble. The Washington State University Concert Choir with soloist Rorigo Cortes sing hypnotically in the unaccompanied The Prophecy.

Eschewing traditional notions of melody, harmony, counterpoint, tonality, or orchestration, Vasallo’s sonic landscapes challenge complacency appealing instead to a visceral response from the listener with music that may be liked or disliked but not ignored.


Pianist-composer Daniel Pesca creates enchanting musical landscapes in his album PROMONTORY, utilizing his own music and that of composers Aaron Travers, Alison Yun-Fei Jiang, and Augusta Read Thomas.

Jiang’s 2017 ISLES is essentially a Romantic, yet atonal work with roots in a kind of Debussy world that utilizes mostly the upper octaves of the piano in tonal painting that ranges from the crystalline As Birds Bring Forth the Sun to the dramatic Salt, to the restless Undercurrents.

Thomas’ enticing BELL ILLUMINATIONS brings to mind with its delicate sonorities the bare-bone miniatures of Anton Webern.

Throughout the music of his fellow composers, Daniel Pesca is an ever faithful interpreter who then becomes the perfect composer-virtuoso pianist in the whimsical Watercolors and in the wider ranging, seven-part Hyde Park Boulevard, an ambitious mini-tone poem for the keyboard in which he summons his impressive technical equipment, executing ostinato figures and diving into massive cluster chords, all the while drawing myriad colors from his instrument in structures that include traditional capriccios and scherzos, all given a new spin.


IN HER WORDS is the title of composer Stefania de Kenessey’s album of dance pieces utilizing electronic music created for Ariel Rivka Dance. An intriguing work that occasionally uses the spoken word, IN HER WORDS is meant to accompany the art of Dance, but it is nevertheless a series of melodic compositions deserving to be listened to as stand-alone creations.

Neuma Records’ Phillip Blackburn designed the beautifully-packaged CD’s that also boast first-class engineering.

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Two Nordic Composers and one fine violinist

In a delightful and recent recording for the BIS label, two violin concertos are brilliantly performed by the 21 year old Swedish-Norwegian violinist Johan Dalene, with John Storgårds helming the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra.

Both Carl Nielsen and Jean Sibelius were born in 1865. Both were trained as violinists. Both their violin concertos were composed within six years of each other: Sibelius’ in 1905 and Nielsen’s in 1911.

Jan Sibelius composed his three-movement Violin Concerto in D minor, opus 47 as a vehicle in which he gave the orchestra as much attention as he gave to the violin part. Sibelius’ music, grand at its best, grandiose at its worst, is never ever dull. He looked for and found inspiration in the Finnish Kalevala and other sagas, finding tales to which he gave potent music, among them En Saga, the Karelia Suite, Finlandia, and the Lemminkäinen Suite (also named Four Legends from the Kalevala.)  

Well into his late age, the Finnish composer kept his back turned to 20th century musical trends, all the while remaining steadfast in his dislike of atonality. Sibelius was not a populist, although he was deeply interested in the folk and national music and literature of his country, an attitude that allowed him to inject into his works sweeping melodies that gave his compositions a good degree of popularity, as is the case with his violin concerto.

Carl Nielsen composed his unusually-structured two-movement Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 33 with each of its two sections given a slow, then fast tempo. The Danish composer was a pragmatist who used a variety of means to create works that included now and then a flirtation with atonality. His music inspired patriotic feelings among his compatriots, earning him well deserved honors during his lifetime, even though he unfairly never achieved the international acclaim accorded Sibelius.

Nielsen’s violin concerto is elegantly neo-classical, melodic, inventive, playful and jittery at times, lyrical at others, but lamentably has never entered the go-to concert repertoire for the instrument. Perhaps the enterprise of rising young artists like Johan Dalene will bring about a positive change.

Rafael de Acha         ALL ABOUT THE ARTS