I was tempted to begin by saying that someone who had never seen Don Giovanni before would find this production confusing, but on reflection I don’t actually think that this is the case. There are some moderately confusing elements – I will make an attempt at explaining the woman in white and the three plum-sized rocks of compassion later on – but these are not obtrusive or disruptive.
The action takes place in what is perhaps best described as what you would get if you mated the Black Lodge from Twin Peaks with the hotel bar from the movie of The Shining. It’s a room with a zig-zag patterned wooden floor and velvet curtains. There are various pieces of heavy-looking blue velvet furniture and, for some scenes, a bar with plenty of liquor, some oranges, and stacks of martini glasses. The look is vaguely 1950s, as are the costumes, which range from a maroon velvet smoking jacket for Don Giovanni to a cute ’50s party dress for Zerlina to black evening dresses for the other women. The first thing we see is the room reflected back into infinity toward the rear of the stage. They’ve set up the mirrors so that each reflection is a right-to-left flip of the one in front or behind it.
The space is filled with couples frozen in place, but these are not the characters of the opera. Rather, they’re a set of additional figures that appear and disappear throughout the story. Their role in the story seems to be as a visual stand-in for various aspects of romantic relationships. When Donna Anna (Eva Mei) enters in pursuit of Don Giovanni (Simon Keenlyside), she can’t find him because she keeps thinking the various men in these couples are him, and pulling them apart to find out. During Leporello’s catalog song, Donna Elvira (Malin Hartelius) discovers one such couple asleep on a sofa – the woman is wearing only her very retro underthings – and after lying down next to them and snuggling for a moment, she pulls up the woman, who is as floppy and obedient as a toy, dresses her in some of her (Elvira’s) clothes, gives her her (Elvira’s) bag, and sends her on her way. Don Ottavio (Piotr Beczala) appears to attract these women like nothing else – during “dalla sua pace” about fifteen of them slowly approach him and drape themselves around him, and after “il mio tesoro” they literally carry him off the stage. As Anna explains Don Giovanni’s attack on her to Ottavio in Act I, we get little tableaux in the rear of the stage of women slowly strangling men and pushing them to the ground, and men doing the same to women. Don Ottavio is facing in the direction of these little scenes, but it is unclear what he sees. The effect is to suggest that the actions of the characters are endlessly duplicated elsewhere. The whole thing has a very strong “hall of mirrors” vibe.
The evocation of the 1950s and the fact that this whole thing seems to take place in an endless, plush and windowless room work together quite well. It indicates the closed world in which these characters are operating. You can have certain types of fun and drink plenty of martinis, but in the end you don’t have all that many choices.
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