During the overture the characters and their interpreters are
presented against a backdrop of violent flames, almost all the
characters showing stern or grim faces and we draw the conclusion
that in this production hell is the unavoidable end from the outset
and that librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte’s billing ‘dramma giocoso’
was more apt than Mozart’s plain ‘opera buffa’. No valid production
of this work is played as downright ‘opera buffa’ however, since
there is so much of serious ‘dramma’ as well as a fair share of
the supernatural. It isn’t even correct to divide the characters
in comic and serious categories. Leporello, who on the face of
it is the typical stock buffo bass, shows such an array of honest
human feelings that every viewer can identify with him. The role
is broadly comic but with serious undertones. Don Giovanni, on
the other hand, is neither fish nor fowl. What his true feelings
are is almost impossible to decipher. He is cruel, egotistic,
horny, scheming, false and when he talks of feelings he mostly
mocks them in the next sentence. He is unfaithful to his conquests
simply because it would be cruel to all the others if he adored
just one. The only truth about him, which is confirmed in the
final confrontation with the Stone Guest, is that he is no coward.
He refuses to give in even though he knows the consequences. Masetto
is a hothead, not too bright, I believe, and Don Ottavio is just
a mealy-mouthed nobleman. One easily understands that Donna Anna
in the epilogue wants another year to think things over and if
there would be a sequel to the opera I am sure that she would
walk out on him. She is a true tragic character, rather
self-absorbed while Donna Elvira is more abstruse. She is a victim,
suffering greatly from having been let down by Don Giovanni, maybe
even a bit mad, but she also has zest and one doesn’t believe
in her when she in the epilogue states that she is going to spend
her remaining days in a convent. In this production Joyce DiDonato
clearly shows that this is blether. The really warm and kind-hearted
character – in this production – is Zerlina. She seems able and
willing to care about each and everyone. She tends her Masetto
lovingly when he has been beaten by Don Giovanni, she understands
her female colleagues’ predicament, she bothers about Don Ottavio
and she even finds time to comfort Leporello in the epilogue.
In her white chemise she wanders about like a Florence Nightingale,
supervising everyone’s wellbeing.
A very serious an
little buffa-like concept in other words? Far from it. In fact
this is, parallel with the serious elements, one of the most
joyous productions of the opera I have seen. Stage director
Francesca Zambello hasn’t missed an opportunity to make something
enjoyable out of every comic point and there is a freshness
and vitality about the whole performance that is infectious.
There are oddities as well, but they pale in significance compared
to the many strokes of genius that gild the production. Donna
Elvira’s first entrance, being carried on a palanquin and armed
with a large-bored rifle is a bit contradictive, and Don Giovanni
is – in line with his strong ego – a bit too exhibitionistic,
stripped to the waist most of act II and in the finale receiving
his visitor(s) only dressed in red city-shorts. That he humiliates
Donna Elvira, on her last attempt to convert him, by throwing
red wine on her white dress is of course only a belated symbol
of the real humiliation that had taken place before the opera
The cast have responded
wholeheartedly to the direction and besides Simon Keenlyside,
who has become one of the leading exponents of the title role,
American bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen makes a superb Leporello.
The mercurial and charming Miah Persson is the Zerlina to the
life and Joyce DiDonato is a wholly believable Donna Elvira. All
four are also vocally on top and Ms DiDonato is a wonder of vocal
beauty and expressivity. But there isn’t a weak member in the
cast, even though the monumental Eric Halfvarson no longer is
ideally steady. Ramon Vargas may not be the liveliest of actors
– on the other hand: what is there to do with this stuffed shirt?
– but he delivers his two arias with elegance and style and Il
mio tesoro is superbly sung.
Sir Charles Mackerras
is a renowned Mozartean and he paces the performance to perfection.
The video direction is cleverly observant and when something
extraordinary happens the cameras are there.
All in all a fresh
and vital performance – far superior as a production to the
two most recent Don Giovanni DVDs that have come my way:
Ingo Metzmacher and Franz Welzer-Möst, the latter also featuring
Simon Keenlyside – and the singing is a pleasure throughout.