A selective guide to arts commentaries in print and websites elsewhere.
Introduction to Broad Street Review, plus biographies and contact points for our editors and contributors.
See a list of coming appearances by BSR's writers.
La Scala’s ‘Don Giovanni’ in HD-TV (1st review)BY: Steve Cohen 12.13.2011
Director Robert Carsen is so besotted with Don Giovanni’s protagonist that he overlooks the opera’s other fascinating characters. There’s much more to Mozart’s opera than one man’s energetic sex life.
Don Giovanni. Opera by Wolfgang Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte. Choir and Orchestra of La Scala in Milan, Daniel Barenboim, conductor; Robert Carsen, director. December 7, 2011 through January 14, 2012 at La Scala, Milan. High-Definition TV version shown December 7 and 27, 2011 at Bryn Mawr Film Institute, 824 W. Lancaster Ave., Bryn Mawr, Pa. www.teatroallascala.org.
Missing the point about Don GiovanniSTEVE COHEN
Director Robert Carsen obviously has a crush on Don Giovanni, or at least a severe case of envy.
“He’s full of energy, always moving,” Carsen explained at intermission of the new production of Mozart’s opera, which was televised live around the world. Giovanni, Carsen added, is “not afraid of death because he’s going to crowd everything into his life here and now.” But Carsen spoke not at all about Don Giovanni’s other characters, nor about the society of Mozart’s time, and his concept betrayed a similar lack of interest in those areas.
To be sure, many men would covet Giovanni’s wealth and his sex life. But you’re missing a lot if that’s all that you see in Don Giovanni.
Carsen’s viewpoint was clear from the beginning— when the Don appeared in the audience, dressed in black tie and tails, then climbed onto the stage during the overture— to the end when, as the sextet sang that all evil-doers will go to hell, the Don reappeared on the stage behind them, wearing a smoking jacket and flourishing a cigarette. He blew a puff, the stage filled with smoke and the sextet of singers disappeared, leaving a smiling Don Giovanni triumphantly alone.
Between these points, we saw a bare-bones production that must have pleased the Italian officials who’ve been cutting La Scala’s budget. But it didn’t please the audience in the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, who would have preferred to see attractive sets tied to some identifiable time and place. Most of the production took place on a bare stage cluttered with chairs and an occasional clothes rack. It looked like a high school production— in a disadvantaged school district.
Sit down? Where?
The stripped-down setting created awkward moments, as when Masetto looked for a place to hide during the Don’s party in his palace. “Oh, here’s a place,” he sang. But in this production there was no there there. Masetto simply sat down in the middle of the stage.
The costumes were mostly modern, but with the occasional use of the red velvet that adorns the opera house. The set used mirrors to reflect La Scala’s curtain, proscenium and boxes— a tribute to La Scala as well as to the timelessness of the Don Giovanni fable.
The production had its effective moments. The Commendatore made his last-act reappearance standing in the royal box, between Italy’s president and prime minister, while the white roses around the box matched the garland on the Commendatore’s coffin onstage. Earlier, the masked trio of Anna, Elvira and Ottavio stood behind the conductor’s podium, and the Don and Leporello argued with each other as they paced up and down the venerable theater’s aisles.
Daniel Barenboim conducted with serious intent, stressing the drama over the giocoso in this “dramatic comedy.” He favored moderate tempi with occasional moments of suspended time, as in “Dalla sua pace” and “Non mi dir.”
Peter Mattei was properly smooth and suave as Giovanni, and his singing was mellow. Bryn Terfel was a rambunctious Leporello. Giuseppe Filianoti’s voice lacked bloom as Don Ottavio, but he sang with exquisite phrasing and breath control.
The women were a source of frustration. Barbara Frittoli sang with her usual musicality, aptly portraying Elvira’s sadness but less successfully reflecting her neediness. Look at the tempo and the scale passages of the “Mi tradi” aria and you’ll see that Elvira is a woman on the verge of hysteria.
Anna Prohaska made an appealing Zerlina but lacked the lusty earthiness inherent in that peasant character. Carsen remarked that Zerlina “is already drunk” at her wedding when Giovanni first sees her, but Prohaska failed to convey that inebriation.
Although Anna Netrebko has sung Donna Anna in St. Petersburg since 2002, and the Milan audience loved her, she really is miscast in that role. Netrebko could make an excellent, fragile Elvira, but Anna requires a bigger and bolder sound, the thrust of a dramatic soprano with a soaring top and an imperious character.
Carsen’s opening scene called for Anna to push Giovanni out of her bed, apparently after consensual sex—a concept first presented by director Tito Capobianco in a production last season by Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts. Anna tells her fiancé Ottavio that she fought off Giovanni; but that’s a lie to cover her embarrassment. Anna is a controlling, domineering woman, but you wouldn’t know it from Netrebko’s performance.
I’d wager that an audio-only broadcast or recording of this performance would be more satisfying than the video production I saw.♦
Respond to this Article