Claus Guth’s 2008 Salzburg production of Don Giovanni divided the critics along entirely predictable lines. It’s a very unusual treatment of Don Giovanni but the concept is stuck to with real consistency and it works to create a compelling piece of music theatre. The treatment on video too is not straightforward and, in a sense, the DVD/Blu-ray version is as much the work of Brian Large as it is of Claus Guth.
The entire piece is set in a forest and uses a revolving stage. There’s a bus shelter and a car and one or two other things but mostly it’s one of those claustrophobic northern pine forests. It’s set in the present and Don Giovanni and Leporello are both intravenous drug users. The Donnas and Don Ottavio are considerably more upscale with expensive clothes and plenty of jewelry. The wedding party is just that though considerable amounts of drink can be assumed.
The central conceit of the piece is that Don Giovanni is fatally wounded in his fight with the Commendatore and is dying for 95% of the opera, only keeping going by shooting up at intervals. Since Leporello is similarly chemically enhanced the border between reality and their imaginations is considerably blurred. There are a number of other interesting interpretations. Donna Anna is clearly seriously attracted to Don Giovanni throughout. The first scene is the most “not a rape” version that I have seen unless tearing a guys shirt off and jumping on top of him constitutes being raped. She’s still at it at the end when she sings Non mi dir to Don Giovanni rather than Don Ottavio before stripping off her finery and running off with Don Ottavio’s pistol; presumably to shoot herself.
Zerlina too is much more forceful than usual. The second act duet with Leporello Per queste tue manine is included and provides an opportunity for Zerlina to beat up Leporello and leave him tied up with a noose round his neck. In her scenes with Masetto she takes “topping from the bottom” to heights unusual even for a Regie Zerlina. We also get a Don Ottavio with more character than usual, showing a fair amount of real irritation with Donna Anna’s prevarications. For the record, the final “redemptive” ensemble scene is omitted.
The performances are of a piece with the production concept. This is not, perhaps, singing for the Mozart purist except for Dorothea Röschmann’s elegantly sung Donna Elvira. Chris Maltman (Don Giovanni) and Erwin Schrott (Leporello) act magnificently and sing their big numbers well enough though perhaps not in the highest Mozartian style. In between the recits are barely sung but they are articulated as one might expect a dying stoned thug to articulate them. Also, Schrott’s impression of a twitching junkie is amazing. Something similar could be said for Annette Dasch’s Donna Anna and Matthew Polenzani’s Don Ottavio. They sing well enough but where there is a trade off between musical and dramatic values the drama wins out every time. They also look pretty good. If any of this suggests Röschmann’s acting is not also of the highest standard be reassured that it is. On occasion I’ve been fairly unimpressed with Röschmann’s acting skills but here she’s very good indeed. Ekaterina Siurina is the best Zerlina I’ve seen. She’s got a lovely voice and she can act. I predict great things from her. Alex Esposito pulls off a Masetto who’s almost as twitchy as Leporello. Anatoli Kotscherga is fairly unmemorable either way as the Commendatore whose role is rather diminished by this production. Bertrand de Billy and the Wiener Philharmoniker sounded fine to me.
As I said earlier the video direction on this one is problematic. Because the stage is rotating and the camera are kept in close it’s all but impossible to tell what angle Large is using and whether or not it’s the same as the theatre audience is seeing. I think it works quite well as a film but it’s not, I think, a very faithful reproduction of the stage production. I would really like to have a better idea of what the audience saw. The picture on Blu-ray manged to cope very well with the generally low light levels and both the DTS Master Audio and PCM stereo soundtracks are high standard. There are no extras and the documentation is not especially enlightening. There are English, French, German, Italian and Chinese subtitles.