Friday, October 24, 2008

Don Giovanni

The Canadian Opera Company's production of Don Giovanni was a strange disaster.

Overall the singing was pretty good. Actually, it was excellent, although Gordon Gietz's Don Ottavio struggled to be heard in the ensemble pieces. He has a fine voice, but size matters, even in Mozart...I felt for him, as he's from my hometown!

The production, on the other hand...I do not know if I've ever seen so many interesting moments, so many possible dramatic avenues of exploration, totally thwarted by a hamfisted execution.

Take Julie Makerov's Donna Elvira. A warm, expressive voice, and a stone countenance. Donna Elvira is perhaps the most clearly conflicted character in the opera, and Ms. Makerov's performance communicated none of that. But perhaps that was the direction, and direction here trumped pretty much everything, included whole swaths of unavoidable conflicts with the libretto.

I have written about this before. "Regietheater" isn't a bad word to me, provided it makes some kind of sense, it hangs together. The problem with this production, and this is giving the director some credit, is that she seemed to be fighting against the tremendous weight of this opera's production history, but in those attempts, she failed, especially in the baffling ending (more on that later).

Everyone falls down before The Score. And yet, much of what we know about the opera, and it's characterizations, comes not through the score but through its performances.

And so returning to Mozart, I have a pet theory (perfect for blogs), mentioned before about the Mozart/Da Ponte operas. Having seen Don Giovanni on stage for the 6th time last night, it is clear to me that Don Giovanni is a far more problematic work than thought, but that many of these problems are "hidden" by a production history that highlights the farcical elements of the work, pulling it more in the direction of Le nozze di Figaro and away from the opera I believe it to be much closer to, namely, the much more explicitly problematic Così Fan Tutte.

The COC production teased out some of these bits, some of the darker elements that are right there in the work, but it failed because of two main flaws - making Don Giovanni a really sleazy asshole and, wait for this, making the entire stone statue scene a trick played on Don Giovanni by Leoporello, Don Ottavio and Masetto. In doing so, they flattened out the moral ambiguity in Don Giovanni to "Don Giovanni is bad and deserves to die", completely robbing the sextet, and therefore the audience, of any sense of irony in the conclusion (this piece over at Sounds and Fury does a great job of getting at the sextet's importance).

Instead, the COC production verges on nihilism. People walk out either feeling really good that the bad, bad Don got his, those same people who need to feel that way as AC Douglas mentions in his piece, or, like me, really deflated after watching some of the principals essentially torture Don Giovanni to death and then sing about his comeuppance. There's irony there, but it's in entirely the wrong direction.

So what to do? Well, one thing is that maybe this blog is a good place for me to start writing about how I think a production of Don Giovanni could go. This series will be called "Production Notes to a Don Giovanni that will never be produced."

I can't guarantee this won't run out of steam any more than any of the other failed projects here, but I've been blogging fairly regularly lately, so who knows?

And please, friends, if you've seen this production, or have any ideas, by all means, share - this is a blog, after all.

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