Don Giovanni / ROH 2008 (1)

I’ve seen this performance a few times, and while there are elements of it that I’ve mentioned before I never really tried to figure out what I thought about the whole.

The main piece of the staging is a sort of large rotating drum that looks like a darkened window made up of a lot of small square panes. We’re on the outside of it. The panes are covered with the impressions of hands, as if people are stuck inside. (Hell? Don Giovanni’s conquests?) Here and there on it are brackets and crosses that people can climb, and depending on how it is oriented there is sometimes an image of the Virgin in view. The drum turns around to reveal staircases, the red interior of Giovanni’s house, and so on. The weirdest bit is the graveyard scene at the end, where the statue of the Commendatore is – as far as I can tell – a kind of hanging abstract sculpture in the shape of . . . a potato? It’s hanging towards the rear of the stage, visible through a gap in the aforementioned drum. When it ‘nods’ to accept Don Giovanni’s invitation what you see is the object swinging back and forth. Fortunately this item itself does not drag Don Giovanni down to hell, because I’m not even sure it would be capable unless it sort of enveloped him and moved away, and that would look pretty silly, wouldn’t it?

On the subject of silly. Simon Keenlyside (Don Giovanni) gets a slightly ludicrous wig. Ramon Vargas as Don Ottavio gets what as far as I can tell is the same wig, but in a different color, and somehow he manages to carry it off so that you don’t notice as much. Possibly Don Ottavio’s intrinsic sappiness makes this ‘cover of a cheap romance novel’ hair make sense in his case. All of the men get hair like this, in fact – well, all the noblemen. Masetto and Leporello are spared. But in the graveyard scene in Act III, there are I think some monks passing by but there are also rows of silent men standing there during Giovanni and Leporello’s conversation with the statue, and they all have this same longish wavy hair. As does the Commendatore. The male characters’ clothing is similar too. Don Giovanni’s suit is red, and Don Ottavio’s outfit is blue and black, but it’s essentially the same outfit – velvet jacket, ruffly shirt, trousers, boots – and when Elvira and Anna are ‘masquerading’ at the end of Act I they are dressed in men’s clothes, with Elvira in a blue version of this outfit and Anna in a black one. All noblemen are basically shades of the same thing? I’m not sure.

Anyhow. There are some moments of the staging that seem a bit awkward, like the very beginning where Donna Anna is pursuing Don Giovanni, but she has to pursue him sort of out of an aperture as he’s climbing down a ladder and it make me wonder if this isn’t one of the most difficult parts in this opera to stage effectively. The section in Act I when Don Giovanni hasn’t yet realized that he has encountered Donna Elvira is similar – he has his hand half over his face and they are on opposite sides of a series of small objects before he is recognized. It doesn’t read as ‘natural’ but it doesn’t read as deliberately ‘hey this is contrived!’ contrived either.  However, there are other moments, like the scene near the end where Don Giovanni humiliates Donna Elvira once more by pouring a goblet of wine onto her lap, that work very well. It’s a mixed bag in this sense – and in a few other ways too.

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