Happy families

Dmitri Tcherniakov’s Don Giovanni recorded at the 2010 Aix-en-Provence festival is full on Regie.  He takes the characters and story of Mozart/DaPonte and recasts them quite radically.  Zerlina is Donna Anna’s daughter.  Donna Elvira, Donna Anna’s cousin, is married to Don Giovanni.  Leporello is a family member too.  The sense is of one extended, conventional, bourgeois family in which Don Giovanni is a fatally disruptive intrusion.  Tcherniakov changes the time line too.  Instead of taking place over a 24 hour period the story plays out over many weeks.

1.familyCentral to the piece is Tcherniakov’s idea of Don Giovanni.  He’s no brash, young seducer but rather an older, rather lonely, man that women take pity on.  Leporello is more a kind of chorus than sidekick.  Donna Anna is highly sexed and clearly has the hots for every man in the piece; Masetto included.  Donna Elvira is deeply sad.  These characters are placed in a conventional continental European bourgeois setting to play out the logical consequences of their characters and relationships.

2.kneesWe open, before the overture starts, with a tableau of the family gathering for dinner.  The Commendatore is clearly very much in charge.  After the overture the opening scene is unambiguous.  Donna Anna is all over Don Giovanni, to the disgust of her father.  There’s a brief scuffle between the Commendatore and Don Giovanni.  The older man bangs his head on something and dies.  It’s clearly an accident.  This Don Giovanni is not a violent man.

3.partyIn the following scenes we see Donna Elvira and Zerlina both fall for Don Giovanni.  During Lá ci darem la mano Zerlina is very much taking the initiative, repeatedly kissing the Don’s hands, while a very sad looking Donna Elvira watches through the window.  The following scene where Donna Anna demands vengeance from Don Ottavio has her practically raping him.  Batti, batti sees a frustrated Zerlina trying desperately to get any sort of reaction out of Masetto.  There’s real tenderness between Don Giovanni and Donna Elvira and, at the end of the act, it’s clear that Zerlina’s beef isn’t that Don Giovanni has raped her but rather that he isn’t paying her enough attention.  And perhaps here we have the key to this family and just why Don Giovanni is such a disruptive element.  The women in this world have the hardest time even getting noticed by the men except for poor, sad Don Giovanni, who will distribute his largesse freely, but who thereby arouses jealousy in the women who compete for his attention and the men who care about their ownership of their women rather than the women per se.

4.anna_ottavioAct 2 is a bit manic with some pretty serious partying.  There are several deft touches though.  The Leporello, Don Giovanni, Donna Elvira interaction at the beginning of the act is brilliant.  There’s no real disguise involved here and who is singing what to whom is really twisted around in a rather disturbing way.  So it goes on throughout the act until the final denouement.  There are no flames, no Hell.  The characters all renounce Don Giovanni in their own terms and leave him alive , but broken, on the stage.  Like all radically reinvented versions of classics there are a few loose ends that don’t quite work but overall it’s very coherent and successful on its own terms.

5.battiOne thing that’s readily apparent is that one could only pull off this production with a cast of really good actor/singers who look the part and are totally committed to the concept.  We have that here.  Front and centre is the extraordinary Don Giovanni of Bo Skovhus.  He’s a very good singer of course but here he transcends that to give an entirely convincing portrayal of a sad, lonely and rather manic middle aged man.  Equally good is the hauntingly sad Donna Elvira of the gorgeous Kristine Opolais.  Marlis Petersen is equally convincing as a slightly nympho Donna Anna.  Kyle Ketelsen is a great choice for the rather frail Leporello of this production as is Kerstin Avemo as a waif like Zerlina who can become a spitting fury when it suits.David Bizic is a glowering hulk of a Masetto.  Tcherniakov meets the challenge of opera’s most boring character, Don Ottavio, by making him boring.  Colin Balzer manages to pull this off while singing rather well.  Dalla sua pace is really lovely.  Anatoli  Kotscherga doesn’t have a lot to do but he is suitably patrician as the Commendatore.  Louis Langrée is clearly in sympathy with the concept and gets a lively, even brash, sound out of the Freiburger Barockorchester.  Somehow the period brass really works here.  The small chorus is supplied by the English Voices.  All in all, it’s a good example of total commitment well executed.

6.masksVideo direction is by Andy Sommer and it’s mixed.  The Aix stage is small and the production is generally well lit.  It’s also a 1080i HD recording so I see no need for over use of close ups but that’s rather what we get.  This gets really annoying during some of the ensembles where the subtitles are showing the words of a character the camera isn’t on!  Sound and picture quality though are both really excellent, on Blu-ray at least.  There’s a worthwhile half hour “making of” bonus track.  I’d recommend it before watching the piece proper.  It helps!  Documentation includes a track listing and Tcherniakov’s plot summary, which is good because too often the synopses that come with disks are just the regular plot rather than what we are seeing.  Subtitle options are English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

7.endI think this a Regie Don Giovanni worthy to stand alongside the Kušej and Guth versions though it’s not for the traditionalists.

9 thoughts on “Happy families

  1. Interesting concept which seems quite thought-through. Agreed that casting is really key here. Don G is such a confounding piece even in a traditional staging – this seems to be as good a solution as any!

    • I think what I love about Don Giovanni is that it can carry so many interpretations. I pity the people who think there is only one! Few operas are so rich in that way. Lohengrin maybe but not many.

      This production would be awful with the wrong cast. In my nightmares I imagine it with Renee Fleming.

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