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Paulo Szot Goes to Hell

This review is an Ionarts exclusive.

Paulo Szot in Don Giovanni, Dallas Opera
We have already written a lot about Washington National Opera's revival of John Pascoe's staging of Don Giovanni, with reviews by me on opening night and by Robert R. Reilly mid-run. The production has only one remaining performance, this Saturday, but Ionarts went back to the Kennedy Center Opera House for the penultimate performance on Tuesday night. Few of my thoughts about the staging or the singers changed as a result, except that more details in Pascoe's direction stood out this time around. Barbara Frittoli's Donna Elvira impressed me more in the second viewing, not because she seemed vocally any more ideal but because the character's sincere love for Don Giovanni is so touching. As noted in my previous review, Frittoli quite believably tries to follow Don Giovanni into hell: this time, I noticed that Pascoe places her there with Don Giovanni, in that dumbshow glimpse into the character's future suffering in hell during the overture. It also dawned on me this time that Donna Elvira is Don Giovanni's best chance at redemption (thus Pascoe's inclusion of two statues of the Madonna in the staging). He mocks her offer of salvation in the terzetto "Ah! taci, ingiusto core," near the opening of Act II, when he fakes atonement to take advantage of Elvira's hopes of a life together with him. Some of the musical phrases of this false act of contrition are eerily echoed in the damnation scene, as the stone guest repeatedly asks Don Giovanni if he repents. Don Giovanni, of course, is able only to play at repenting.

The reason, however, to take in this performance was to hear the secondary casting of Paulo Szot in the title role. The Polish-Brazilian baritone debuted the Don at Dallas Opera in 2010, but the role was not a good match for him, as Mike Silverman noted in a spot-on review for the Associated Press ("baritone Paulo Szot in the title role is vocally underpowered and only intermittently effective"). Here in Washington, too, Szot was both vocally and physically uncomfortable, covered much of the night by other singers and the orchestra and, for all his vaunted good looks, mostly awkward in the dancing and other situations. Szot has had surprisingly good luck in being featured at the Met, although ultimately he had a vocally weak debut in Shostakovich's The Nose, followed by a withdrawn Escamillo on the opening night of Carmen last year. Perhaps not surprisingly, he first gained considerable notoriety when he was cast as Emile de Becque in a rare Broadway revival of South Pacific, and he may be more comfortable with microphone in hand as a nightclub singer, for which he has received not one but two embarrassingly slobbery profiles in the New York Times. The worst part of the cinematization of opera is that favorable closeups are trumping vocal considerations in casting, a trend that will hopefully not bring us a production starring Szot sometime in the future.


Anonymous said...

You are clearly attacking Mr.Szot for being a crossover singer. Your review is ridiculous.
I watched the performance and he was never covered by the orchestra or his colleagues.
Mister Szot had a perfect comprehension od the role and sand beautifully with style.

Anonymous said...

If this is supposed to be a review that wants to be taken serious, you better learn how to properly do your job, and not just attack people you obviously personally do not like. This is ridiculous !!!

Anonymous said...

I was there as well, Anonymous at 11.36PM, and he was indeed overpowered by the orchestra, notably in the Don's signature arias - La ci darem la mano and Deh vieni alla finestra... particularly the latter.

The one person who was never overpowered was the Masetto, give that man a volume control to turn down!

Anonymous said...

Horrible review.

Mr. Szot was wonderful.
The orchestra overpowered other singers too at different moments.
It's Mozart and the Orchestra should not be playing as if it was Wagner.... I don't agree when you say Masetto's voice was never overpowered. In fact, I could hear him well , although I wish I couldn't...his voice was not pretty.

Also, for the record:
Mr. Szot's "The Nose"at the Met was superb.
I can't imagine any other singer doing it.

The reviewer must be some unilateral purist.

Anonymous said...

While I did not see this performance, we did see Mr. Szot's performance in this opera at the Dallas Opera, and he was fabulous. We have also traveled twice to hear his cabaret show which is amazing. Mr. Szot has one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard. We already have tickets to hear him sing with the Philharmonic in NY this coming June. One must wonder just what is with this reviewer?!