OPERA NEWS - Don Giovanni
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In Review > International

Don Giovanni

Opéra National de Paris

In REview Paris Don Giovanni hdl 1015
Artur Ruciński, as Giovanni, and Alessio Arduini, as Leporello in Michael Haneke's production of Mozart's opera at the Bastille
© Christian Leiber/Opéra National de Paris
In Review Paris Don Giovanni lg 2 1015
Karine Deshayes and Ruciński
© Christian Leiber/Opéra National de Paris

You might expect a director as hip as Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke to cut the moralistic coda from Mozart’s philosophically complex opera, but he doesn’t—in fact, Haneke’s production seems to side with the finger-waggers left behind after the title character’s anti-Rapture. The action is moved up to the present, specifically the lobby of an upper floor in a modern office tower (which doesn’t look so dissimilar from the lobbies of the Opéra Bastille), so the finale feels rousingly populist, apropos especially to the time of the production’s premiere: 2006, on the cusp of the world financial crisis that would give the U.S. #Occupy and Bernie Sanders as a viable presidential candidate. Take that, corporate America! Turning Giovanni into some sort of executive does make some sense; who else do people today often stereotype as being as cocky and unapologetically rapacious as the legendary Lothario? Management is the new nobility. 

Sometimes Haneke’s updating loses its sense: why aren’t the police investigating the Commendatore’s death? Why is the custodial staff celebrating Zerlina and Masetto’s wedding during a shift? Would anyone really confuse Giovanni for his servant because they’ve exchanged ties? Other times, it’s clever, like Leporello keeping il catalogo on his smartphone. But most stingingly, the new setting allows Haneke to strip Giovanni’s defiant amorality of the heroism it sometimes elicits these days. This Don Giovanni is barbarous, a suicidal, sex-addicted rapist who needs to be put down—or, rather, pushed out the window.

Donna Elvira serves as his foil, a haunting, walking, stalking moral conscience, popping up to foil his efforts at seduction. A heartfelt Karine Deshayes was wonderful in the role; betrayed and broken, her voice filled every corner of the Bastille auditorium like oxygen—in contrast to Donna Anna, sung by Julie Davies, who at the September 29 performance filled in for an ill Maria Bengtsson and sang from the pit while a mute Violeta Zamudio mimed the action onstage. These things happen, but Davies all night sounded strangely offstage; worse, her middle was muddled, though she compensated with an ethereal, gloriously assured top. 

Matthew Polenzani, as Ottavio, was the evening’s standout; his “Dalla sua pace” was exceptionally moving, showstoppingly sincere, and showcased an awesome piano. The brawny-voiced Alexander Tsymbalyuk, as the Commendatore, was brash in life, delicate in death, and terrifying as statuary. Artur Ruciński, as Giovanni, and Alessio Arduini, as Leporello, lacked the intimacy and easy rapport the best singers bring to the duo, but they were strong individually: Ruciński delivered a “Deh vieni alla finestra” so tender it was extraordinary, while Arduini was effectively exasperated for “Madamina, il catalogo è questo.” 

Even so, that aria lost its edge under German-born conductor Patrick Lange, who led a clear account but also often a bloodless one; the orchestra sounded too safely paced, too carefully drawn. Sometimes the slowed tempos worked; “La ci darem la mano” felt less like a little ditty than like conversation, which played into Haneke’s naturalistic aesthetic, most glaring in his bold use of pauses and silence in the recitatives. It reminded me of a scene in Pina Bausch’s choreography for Orpheus and Eurydice, in which, after the grief-stricken hero lost his beloved for the second time, he retreated to a rear corner of the stage with his back to the audience and sat still. If the essence of ballet is movement, the essence of opera is sound, so by taking either away, you challenge audiences to grapple afresh with familiar works. —Henry Stewart 

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