Don Giovanni – choices and futures

This is a continuation of a discussion of how Martin Kušej treats sex in his Salzburg Don Giovanni. The first installment, dealing with Act 1, is here.

At the conclusion of Act 1 the cycle of, at least apparently, consensual kinky sex has been broken by the first clearly non-consensual action; Zerlina has been hunted down by Don Giovanni and forcibly borne off by the sisters of Persephone. Where is this going?

We now get the scene where Don Giovanni and Leporello swap clothes so that Don Giovanni can seduce Donna Elvira’s maid while Leporello sees to Donna Elvira.  In the terzetto Ah! taci, ingiusto core Don Giovanni once again persuades Donna Elvira of the sincerity of his love.  She leaves  giving just enough time for the guys to swap clothes before she reenters.  In an instant Don Giovanni has the blindfold back on an obviously willing Donna Elvira!  Leporello needs a bit of encouragement from Don Giovanni but pretty soon he and Donna Elvira are making out pretty enthusistically.  Note the apparent symmetry with the opening scene where Don Giovanni seems, on the face of it, to be impersonating Leporello in Donna Anna’s bed.  Now it starts to get weirder.  Don Giovanni sings Deh! vieni to an empty stage.  There’s not a hint of the to-be-seduced maid.  Let’s leave that for now.

Now we get the scene where Don Giovanni, disguised as Leporello beats up Masetto leaving him for Zerlina to find groaning in a heap.  The first thing we notice is that Zerlina is a mess; dishevelled, bruised, her breast scratched badly.  Whatever happened at the end of Act 1 was not only non-consensual but also far from “playful”.  Vedrai, carino is really hard to read.  Zerlina starts off very far from sympathetic to Masetto’s battered state and her actions are to some extent at odds with the music but by the end the two of them are limping off arm in arm in some sort of reconciliation.

Somehow the blindfold finds its way from Donna Elvira to Donna Anna in the scene where Leporello is exposed as a fraud but nothing much happens with it until Donna Elvira picks it up again at Mi tradì.  Now we are back in self delusion/submission territory up to a point but we also get at ouch of the kind of “holy relic” treatment we saw from Don Ottavio in Act 1.  It’s as if she’s trying to make the scarf a symbol of a “love” she’s put behind her but can’t quite manage it.

Now we get the scene in which Donna Anna once more holds Don Ottavio at arms length, ostensibly out of grief for her father, however knowing what we know (or perhaps think we know) it’s hard not see Crudele? Ah no, mio bene as both deceitful and ironic.  Donna Anna sings it entirely straight and, on the surface, it’s a plea to her lover for time but, here, he leaves in frustration half way through the aria.  She doesn’t miss a beat but continues her self-justification.  But to who?  It can only be herself.  It’s pretty clear what she doesn’t want, a vanilla relationship with Don Ottavio, but it’s much less clear what she does want and whether she can admit that even to herself.

The supper scene is weird and curiously abstract.  It is snowing in Don Giovanni’s palazzo.  There isn’t any actual food and wine.  The serving, eating and drinking are all pantomimed.  This is the context for the final encounter with Donna Elvira.  He mocks her of course but then he produces the scarf and blindfolds himself.  At the conclusion of the trio he rips off the scarf and approaches Donna Elvira with it but she’s not having any.  She screams and runs off.  Don Giovanni can mock the kind of relationship he had with Donna Elvira and Donna Anna and tried to have with Zerlina but the jokes on him because time has run out.  Enter the Commendatore and the sisters of Persephone.  Within minutes Don Giovanni is dead and his sexual identity is moot.

The final scene is bleak.  There’s no sense of triumph or redemption or even of any bonding between the two remaining couples.  Donna Elvira and Leporello will go their own ways of course but what of Masetto/Zerlina and Ottavio/Anna?  There’s no sense that they have a happy if sexually unexciting life ahead of them.  There’s just a big sense of nothingness.  What Don Giovanni means to the ladies and what he means to us remains essentially unresolved.

7 thoughts on “Don Giovanni – choices and futures

  1. Pingback: Don Giovanni – delusion and collusion | operaramblings

  2. Is it unresolved in satisfying way or in an unsatisfying way? That is, does the ‘great big nothing’ aspect of it at the end make aesthetic sense or does it seem more like the production just leaves it hanging b/c they don’t know what to do with what they’ve already set up?

    • It’s a very good question. First time through, watching with my normal attention span, I thought it worked. After (over) analyzing the production I’m not so sure. I think it’s consistent that the women now have a gap in their lives. Don Giovanni was supplying something and he won’t be in future. For Masetto and Don Ottavio? Who knows, but they get pretty short shrift as characters anyway so why should the ending be any different?

      • I’d go with my gut – i.e. if it felt like it worked the first time, on some level it was probably working.

        Your point about DG leaving a gap in the women’s lives makes me think again of Jesusa Rodriguez’s Donna Giovanni, where DG in that case is a figure created by the other characters and is played by all them in turn. DG is this sort of – element, I guess, that is obsessively attractive but extremely problematic, and when it’s there it’s a problem in one way and when it’s gone it’s a problem in others. So having the opera end with a great feeling of emptiness/hanging in the air/nothing makes sense. Or it can make sense, I guess, depending on how it’s done.

        Now I really do have to go and find this DVD. I haven’t watched Don Giovanni in a while.

  3. Pingback: Don Giovanni in the 21st century | operaramblings

  4. I know this is an off-the-wall comment, and a few months late (but I just found your wonderful blog). Even blindfolded, the women should be able to tell who they are getting intimate with. I mean Thomas Hampson is like 8 feet tall (6’4” actually); and D’Archangelo is surprisingly much less tall. (I know, it’s opera, suspend some disbelief already!) In other news: Great review(s). I have not managed to sit through the whole production yet, but I am prepared to take another shot at it now!

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