The basic premise of Kasper Holten’s production of Mozart’s Idomeneo, recorded at the Vienna State Opera in 2019, seems to be that Idomeneo and Elettra are so damaged by their experiences that they must yield limelight and power to Idamante and Ilia. It’s an interesting idea though one wonders why Ilia is considered to be less traumatized given that her parents and siblings have been slaughtered and her home razed to the ground. What’s really weird though is that Holten seems to show no sympathy for Idomeneo or Elettra. Not only are they haunted throughout by particularly grizzly corpses but at the end Elettra goes down to Hades; a trench in the stage inhabited by said grizzly corpses, but she’s followed by Idomeneo. He is visibly disintegrating mentally in Act 3 and by the time of his resignation speech the crowd is actually laughing at him then, as he goes to embrace Idamante he is intercepted by two men who hustle him off to the grizzly trench. I’m not sure what Holten is getting at here but, for me, it undermines the sense of resolution that the music implies, as well as its essential humanity.
Sven-Eric Bechtolf’s second Mozart/daPonte for Salzburg was Don Giovanni which premiered in 2014. There are some similarities with his Così fan tutte. He uses a symmetrical unit set again and shows a fondness for creating symmetrical tableaux vivants but there the similarities pretty much end. I could find a consistent, believable set of humans in Così but not so much in Don Giovanni. The problem is really the man himself. Bechtolf, in his notes, seems to be arguing that Don Giovanni can make no sense in an age of pervasive accessibility and exposure to all things sexual. Da Ponte’s Don requires a climate of sexual repression for his essence; to Bechtolf a kind of Dionysian force (he cites Kierkegaard), to make any sense as a human. I think I get that but then, I think, the challenge becomes to create a Don Giovanni who does make sense to a 21st century audience as, in their different ways, do Guth and Tcherniakov. Bechtolf seems to treat the character not so much as a human rather than as a kind of energy focus who exists by igniting aspects of the other characters; whether that’s lust or jealousy or hatred. He caps off this idea at the end by having Don Giovanni reappear during the final ensemble as a kind of mischievous presence still chasing anything in a skirt, even if it’s, perhaps, from another world. It’s an idea that I could not really buy into.