Don Giovanni / Peter Sellars (3)

(Previous section here.)

With a few exceptions, this is not a production that you would buy for musical reasons alone. It’s well executed in terms of the vocal performances. Hunt always gets me with that beautiful, resonant sound — and it’s a sound that she can shrink down to sound gentle and vulnerable in ways that make perfect sense. Dominique Labelle as Donna Anna sounded slight – her voice seemed too small, and sort of lacked punch, although at times, e.g. with “crudele! ah, no mio bene” and the preceding recitative she can make a really bright ringing pretty sound that is like a much smaller version of what Hunt sounds like. (This is the scene where Donna Anna shoots up. I have gotten so used to people getting high in productions of this opera that it has begun to seem normal – and besides, with Anna that bright, fragile, brittle-sounding music itself gives the impression that this young lady is either not taking her meds or self-medicating: heroin kind of makes sense. But anyway.) This production is one of those Regie versions of Mozart where you end up thinking about it more than listening to it. Because there is, of course, the ending to deal with.

We all know how this opera ends. Don Giovanni invites the statue for dinner, the statue shows up, things happen, and Don Giovanni gets dragged down to hell. In this case the statue, who when he shows up emerges from the floor inside the entryway to Elvira, Anna and Ottavio’s apartment building (the McDinner takes place on the front steps of the building) and he appears to have literally emerged from below – he’s green and slimy. Don Giovanni begins to climb down a manhole earlier when escaping from his various pursuers, and when he and Leporello reconcile over some cocaine at the beginning of Act II they are seated in a construction trench, below ground level. So there is plenty to suggest that hell is literally down below the sidewalk.

But before Don Giovanni goes down into the darkness below some other things happen first. As the statue of the Commendatore reminds Don Giovanni that he invited him for dinner, a little child in a pink t-shirt appears. Don Giovanni looks puzzled and unnerved, and backs up as she approaches him. As Giovanni tells the Commandatore he is not a coward (you hear the second violin part here with perfect clarity), he undresses. When the Commendatore says “da me la mano” it’s the child who holds out her hand; she beckons and disappears below; a bunch of people pop up from the underworld to draw Don Giovanni down and although Leporello grips his hands, down Don Giovanni goes. Everyone else reappears, in the places of the spirits, for the final chorus – and based on the subtitles they appear to have skipped the part where Anna and Ottavio say ‘well, I guess we’ll get married in a year’ and Elvira says she’s going to a convent. Those never struck me as ideal solutions to the foregoing story, so I am not going to complain. Along with some superimposed images of burning buildings, the last face we see is Leporello’s, looking (understandably) pretty freaked.

And I guess this is kind of the point, right? You cannot have a production in which Don Giovanni and Leporello are twins without raising some questions. To back up for just a moment, there was that sign for the Christian mission, a white cross, that appeared during the overture. It reappears throughout the production and – well, we are back to Donna Elvira again, because one of the many interesting things she wears is a single large sparkly earring in the shape of a cross. And by the end of the story, when she comes back to try to get Don Giovanni to repent, she’s got a Bible too (I think the Bible may have shown up earlier, in fact in retrospect I am fairly sure it did, but I am a heathen and the lighting was bad – I thought it was a clutch). One of the things that this production leans on is that Leporello feels a certain amount of sympathy for this poor woman – on some level, she is to be taken seriously. That last look at his face indicates that he’s either repenting or feeling awful or some combination of the two. Elvira may have been effective after all, in that Leporello emerges from the ordeal a better person. She didn’t convert Don Giovanni, but she managed to have some effect on his servant. But wait! Recall that Leporello and Don Giovanni look identical. They’re literally twins. Perhaps this whole opera is really about not two men but one man, who spends much of the opera at war with himself and by the end has managed to shed his worst side, find some kind of redemption and emerge a less awful human being? Maybe.

2 thoughts on “Don Giovanni / Peter Sellars (3)

  1. Haven’t seen these in a dog’s age, but now I’m reading your review, it’s sort of interesting to compare Sellars’s work on the Mozart/DaPonte operas with his later stuff, where all this ritual/gestural language has developed. (I’m thinking Theodora in particular.) An indicator of how much regietheater has changed, or how our perceptions of it have?

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    1. It’s true – I was watching for the gestures in this b/c I was so used to them from his later stuff, but they don’t really appear. You get hints of it in the dance section at the end of Act I, with what he has Anna, Ottavio and Elvira doing, but it’s just that, a hint.

      It’s a good question, about how the expectations/perceptions of regietheater have changed. The more I watch various regie productions the more I’m tempted to start theorizing about trends in opera staging – particularly the way that audiences and directors (and probably singers too) seem to have gotten much more comfortable with abstract movement/gestures on stage over the past few decades.

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