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2006-5, Zürich, review of Petra Habeth

Don Giovanni, 16 May 2006

A personal view by Petra Habeth

At first I have to say that  I am ABSOLUTELY GLAD that this will be put on DVD because I am sure I will see things I just did not see first time! There is a “firework” of ideas and gags sometimes, and each singer is a good actor – so looking at one is missing one other at least. Second statement: I have NEVER laughed that much in a Giovanni-performance before and this was my 27th Giovanni in six different stagings.

There is more or less the same stage for every scene – some sofas standing around and a huge bar – and the stage was at the first and the last scene enlarged by a “mirror. Not a “real” mirror but a reversed image so – for me – there was on one hand the image of never ending room or rather never ending circle of life and on the other hand also a kind of negative pattern.

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Some interesting “new“ aspects about the acting characters: (not totally new per se but the way it was interpreted and/or shown).

Donna Anna: IF Giovanni was “successful” before the first act starts it was by NO MEANS a rape, she was VERY willing and the whole opera through is still VERY attracted by him – I’d phrase her feelings this way: He murdered my father so I SHOULD hate him …. but I can’t! And when she sings in the aria that she “believed” the man in her room to be Don Ottavio, I did NOT believe her! (Can’t remember the expression on Ottavio’s face!) When the pretended Giovanni is uncovered as Leporello, they take the red dinner jacket and throw it away …. Donna Anna takes it and holds it – gently caressing it –  and later is wearing it hanging over her shoulders …. The offended glances of Ottavio are quite imaginable! The second aria “Crudele!” she sings with DG’s jacket in her arms , Ottavio standing behind her … she does NOT LOOK backwards … so for who is she singing … for me it is DG.

Donna Elvira: when it was clear that it was not DG but Leporello she spent the last minutes with – and you see them lying on a couch, quite close together, caressing – she first can’t believe it and then sits in a chair and tries to kind of “wash off” Leporellos hands from her body – very impressive and – for me – totally understandable! (I think all women felt with her!)

Don Ottavio: is the “good boy” and for that a little colourless and quite uninteresting. In the first performances (as 2006_Don_Giovanni_Zurich_Ottavio1also written down by most opening night reviews) he was wearing white hair – the time I read that I thought the director “supported “my interpretation (daddy has selected the husband for Anna, more in his own age than hers, and in act 2, since daddy is dead, Anna does not have to marry him any longer!)  but at “my” performance his hair was black again , maybe they saw that for TV that would not be suitable? I don’t know but he looked more the same age with Giovanni and Anna. (no longer second or substitution daddy). For me it was interesting or even amusing to see that he sang his second aria more or less to Elvira, she was sitting next to him and he was addressing her , “il mio tesoro intanto”. Anna had already left the stage and Masetto and Zerlina were searching for some decent way to disappear too.

Leporello: He is imitating his master … he does not only want to be “ un gallant uomo” but he’d love to be like his master – he rants at him that he lives the life of a “bricone” but also adores him for it. …. And concerning. women: if DG does not want Elvira he would not be averse …. but it does not work out. And since he is very badly treated by his master at times he LIKES to treat others the same way

Masetto: Is the “little Mafioso of the village”, he has his own gang and in Zerlinas aria “batti, batti” I thought for the first time that these are not only words but that she maybe already knows that the is quite capable of doing so.

Zerlina:  She is not so innocent as she sometimes is shown, she is attracted by the “gentle”-man, as DG is at first, attracted by the DON with his “casinetto” but when she finds out that he is at last not very different from her Masetto she is the only woman on stage really refusing Don Giovanni and that he absolutely does not like:

Don Giovanni: Well, he spans the whole range: from most tender to totally brutal:
When his caresses do not work on Zerlina – at the finale of the first act he has her on his arms wanting to carry her from stage, she struggles herself free and runs away, he follows her now with a TOTALLY different glance, grabs her at one arm and drags her brutally from the stage –  this will result in a rape – nothing else. When he murders the commendatore he at first – as it looks – tries to comfort him but then seeing that he will fade away, he puts his arms aside and gives him a last push – with a satisfied grin – wiping off his knife on his trousers. He treats Leporello very brutally: when he rebels at the second scene DG brutally grabs him at the throat and with the second hand between the legs! Leporello is yowling of course (there are some gesticulations not only “ambigous” but clearly provocative …. I would not say obscene but near the knuckle, and the way he beats Masetto up is also “hard”. But the other side is his treatment of Anna, and the way he sang his serenade “Deh vieni alla finstra” … I think I was not the only one in the opera house who stopped breathing during this… simply UNBELIEVABLE! I always LOVE him singing that piece but I had NEVER heard it that way before!

Now my comment about the laughing:

Just two examples: since we are not in the age the opera “should” take place, they can’t dance a gavotte or anything else at DGs festivity : instead they are dancing the Charleston and the twist ….(jut hear the music IT IS possible!) and DG teaches Zerlina …. this picture is just gorgeous! Or the scene before that: Masetto is hiding to overhear the conversation between Zerlina and DG to find out if she’s faithful and he’s cowering in front of the bar, Zerlina is standing behind the bar and starts – trying to hide from DG – creeping around the bar and DG coming from the other side, seeing her, and starts creeping from the other side – they “meet” in front of the bar; DG not only finding Zerlina but also “Masetto” …. So they sit all three in front of the bar, frustrated, and a bottle of schnapps (?) is circling between them.

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These were the (more or less) “positive” aspects of the production but there are also (for me!) negative ones:

– There are some gags for the sake of the gag and there were most of the time some dancers on stage – sometimes mixing up with the chorus – and it was not always clear what the reason was for their existence: at the beginning there are some couples dancing together and when DG rushes in and starts to dress himself again (socks and shoes) Anna “searches” between the other men for the one who was in her sleeping room, not seeing the one not yet fully dressed! Why?
– At Giovannis festa they show how this can be get out of hand … two start to undress each other and the rest are looking – well yes, undressing, there is always someone undressing or being undressed … it stops being funny and it stops being reasonable!
– In act 2 the dancers start to murder each other, one man “his” woman, and for the next couple it is the other way round: the woman murders the man – you don’t know why – and you look at them forgetting that there is an aria – the second Elvira-aria – then they are lying around “dead” and during the aria of Ottavio all the women (but one!) arise again and surround Ottavio, later carrying him away lying on their shoulders! Why ?

– The black mistress of the commendatore (did you ever know of her !?!??!?) puts a voodoo-curse on DG … the statue is standing on the graveyard and DG is always looking to see where the voice is coming out…..

BUT how they act with this statue at DG’s final scene is just fantastic: The voodoo-statue wearing the white dinner jacket with the blood-spot on it is carried on stage by Leporello and is sat into a chair. It has a hole instead of a stomach and since DG is afraid of nothing he puts the jacket on. Then there is the command to give his hand and DG puts his right hand into the stomach-hole … and gets stuck! Leporello starts pulling at the other arm, it looks as if DG is torn in two pieces … I think the whole audience started to sweat with him …  and with the second “no” (on the command to repent) he is released and they both crash on the floor, “flying” some metres. Just breathtaking! I could understand that this results in an heart attack, a little too much excess even for this excessive person.

-there are presents at the end for those remaining: DG left them? why? For the “young couple” some utility for the kitchen, for Ottavio a watch (to count the hours till he gets Anna?) For Elvira a rosary – a big one she could wear as a necklace (for her future life in the convent? To pray for him?), for Leporello a cocktail-shaker with engraving at the base (he shows the base to Elvira that’s how I know) and for Anna ? She does not open her gift but puts it on a chair and leaves. For me a hint that she does not any longer want any hints or advice on how to plan her life (not from daddy, not from Ottavio and also not from DG) she will start to take her life into her own hands and so I am (as always) VERY PESSIMISTIC for Ottavio!

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This was a lot about the scenery and the acting but there was singing too – oh yes – just marvellous singing from ALL OF THEM! Ok, there was a wrong note in the terzett (here sunglasses instead of masks!) in the 1st act but that did not count. And Welser-Möst and the orchestra “supported” the singers in an incredible way, they were able or better “allowed” to sing pianos or whole phrases in mezza voce – just great!  Of course there were also the needed forte- and fortissimo-parts as written by Mozart but not the “mash” of fortissimo which is so often served to the audience (esp. in Munich!) and sadly mostly accepted by them or even acclaimed!

A final remark at the end:

My companion and I just thought: this production is totally tailored to SK and Scharinger, we could not think of anybody else ACTING it- singing ok, but the acting??!!

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PH, May 2006

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