Petersen, Opolais, Avemo; Skovhus, Ketelsen, Balzer, Bizic, Kotscherga; English Voices, Freiburger Barockorchester, Langrée. Production: Tcherniakov. BelAir Classiques 480 (Blu-ray) or 080 (2 DVDs), 183 mins. (opera), 27 mins. (bonus), subtitled
Dmitri Tcherniakov's 2010 Aix-en-Provence Festival outdoor staging sets the whole opera indoors, in the Commendatore's drawing room, where the characters love, lust and fight as one dysfunctional family. Donna Anna, the Commendatore's thirty-something daughter, is also teenage Zerlina's mother and Donna Elvira's cousin. Don Ottavio is betrothed to Anna, Masetto is betrothed to Zerlina, and Don Giovanni is married to Elvira. Leporello is a relative who lives in the house. With the Commendatore at the head of a table, they sit down together during the overture. While the others look uptight, easygoing Giovanni is just annoyed at the formality. Middle-aged and more, unshaven and shambling, he clearly is no testosterone-driven sexual dynamo.
Anna is the first scene's sexual aggressor, and she violently attacks her father, contributing to his accidental death; for the rest of the action, which Tcherniakov stretches over five months, she's tormented by guilt, and by passion for Giovanni, not Ottavio. Zerlina's pity for Giovanni blazes into infatuation and then obsession; "Vedrai, carino" will find her sensually wrapped in his camel coat, offering balm to him, not Masetto. As Giovanni's long-suffering wife, Elvira submits to his game-playing, but her suppressed feelings often break out; she laughs off amorous Leporello, and she bonds with Zerlina. In the Act I finale, Giovanni's "Viva la libertà!" exhorts all to loosen up and love freely, and characters pair off for long kisses, but when Zerlina sees that Giovanni and Elvira still love each other, she feels betrayed by both and runs offstage, and Giovanni is hurt by the rejection of his less inhibited ways.
In Act II, he's alcoholic and delusional, serenading a nonexistent maid. He thinks he has seen the dead Commendatore haunting the house, and Leporello further deludes him with a fantasy about a statue in a graveyard. Finally, Leporello and Ottavio devise a ruse to try to destroy the man who enriched the women's lives. Because he and the torn women suffer, the climactic scene and epilogue are harrowing and deeply moving.
The stage action and the text clash so often that the show might have been billed as something other than Mozart and da Ponte's Don Giovanni. Yet it's astonishing how well the staging does mesh, often more meaningfully than in a straight reading. For me, just two scenes don't work, largely because neither Giovanni, when facing Masetto's armed gang, nor Leporello, in the sextet and succeeding aria, is disguised; Tcherniakov wants transparency, not disguise. It's irritating that he several times drops a heavy black curtain to the stage to indicate time's passage. But the acting is superb throughout the cast, the emotions plumbed are deep and disturbing, and the performance is riveting, compulsively watchable again and again.
Louis Langrée, incisive and brisk, conducts the fine Freiburger Barockorchester. The whole cast — Bo Skovhus (Giovanni), Kyle Ketelsen (Leporello), Marlis Petersen (Anna), Kristine Opolais (Elvira), Colin Balzer (Ottavio), Kerstin Avemo (Zerlina), David Bizic (Masetto), Anatoli Kotscherga (Commendatore) — sings well, Ketelsen and Petersen best of all.
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