Tribuna Musical: Curious “Don Giovanni” without Stone Guest

Tribuna Musical: viernes, abril 22, 2016
Curious “Don Giovanni” without Stone Guest
In the world of opera the Mozart-Da Ponte trilogy is frequently staged, and Buenos Aires is no exception. In recent years we have seen “Le Nozze di Figaro”, “Don Giovanni” and “Così fan tutte”at several venues, and no wonder, for all three are masterpieces.

            Many years ago there was in BA an international colloquium about “Don Giovanni”  in which I participated; alas, the performances at the Colón were cancelled due to labor troubles, but a variegated group of people dialogued, and the surprising thing was the opposed points of view on aspects of the libretto and the music: the complicated psychologies of the Don and of both Donna Anna and Donna Elvira were particularly debated.

            Sergio Renán put on stage the trilogy at the Colón between 1990 and 1993.   In recent years Renán was active in spectacular stagings of “The Magic Flute” (again Mozart) and “L´elisir d´amore” (Donizetti), his last production before his lamented death. For 2016 he was supposed to stage “Don Giovanni”, probably with the same team (Emilio Basaldúa and Gino Bogani) but it was not to be.

             However, “Don Giovanni” was already programmed by Darío Lopérfido for 2016, opening the official season; so he brought a new team led by producer Emilio Sagi, well-known here and a veteran of dozens of European stagings. There was reason to expect a good job from him, but what he gave us was an enigma: the total elimination on stage of an essential character, the Stone Guest.

            The Da Ponte libretto draws heavily on Bertati´s for Gazzaniga´s homonymous opera, offered at the Colón some seasons back; it proved to be a very lightweight concoction. Both take elements of the legend from Molière and Tirso de Molina. The paradox about this particular final night in the life of the libertine is that he fails in all his “piacevoli proggetti” (pleasant projects), as he says in one of the scenes, but he certainly tried hard though he was always foiled by Donna Elvira.

             This “dramma giocoso” progresses steadily towards punishment, and two scenes are basic: one is at the cemetery, where the statue of the killed Commendatore (Knight Commander, father of Donna Anna) talks to Giovanni and the frightened Leporello (the comic relief) and accepts the Don´s invitation to dine: it is the irruption of the otherworldly. The other is the dining room of Giovanni, where the joyous goings on are broken first by Elvira, who asks him to repent  (he jeers at her), and then by the Stone Guest; even under the severest admonitions the Don is steadfast: he may be a libertine but he is courageous. Hell opens up and he falls into it.

            That´s what is supposed to happen, not what we saw. The cemetery should be of the old kind: burials on the ground and the occasional mausoleum or statue; what we had was a niche wall as at the Chacarita and no statue, but Leporello says “O statua gentilissima” and speaks to it… And at the dining room, the Commendatore-statue is supposed to come heavily stepping, as Leporello specifies. Here we had his amplified voice coming from the heights to the right and incongruously supported by the choir from hell, also amplified. Wrong both musically and stagewise.

            The stage designs by Daniel Bianco were showy. The whole stage was contained by a golden picture frame, as if it were a painting. What happened inside it , apart from the two scenes already mentioned, was in a wild variety of styles. The costumes by Renata Schussheim looked 1950s, the chairs were Louis XV, Giovanni sang his serenade to a golden wall which looked like a bank, a staircase identical to those used to board a plane  was incomprehensible, and the very last minutes showed all the characters singing the conventional moral in front of Giovanni´s body (for he died over the dinner table) and  throwing pieces of what looked like cake over him (??).

            It was good to have Erwin Schrott as Giovanni, for he is famous in this part; his bass-baritone flows smoothly and he has an ample register, including a stunning final note. He departs from the text and the music unnecessarily (perhaps because he has sung it so often) but he is certainly convincing. And he had a good Leporello, Simón Orfila, a firm bass with acting ability. Jonathan Boyd had sung here Massenet and Britten; he was an able Don Ottavio, although some bits of “Il mio tesoro” proved taxing. Mario De Salvo did a professional job as the peasant Masetto, and Lucas Debevec Mayer was in fine voice as the “Commendatore”.

            Jaquelina Livieri sang and acted nicely as the peasant Zerlina. Paula Almerares was uneven as Donna Anna; her voice is changing and lacked the needed clarity of delivery. María Bayo, who had been splendid as Zerlina back in 1993, unfortunately is now in a sorry decline: in this Elvira the voice has become acid and she constantly recurred to slides. There was a second cast, all-Argentine.

            Marc Piollet was a correct conductor with adequate speeds but the Orchestra should have been more crystalline in its articulation. The small orchestral groups at the end of the First Act were too far back, and in the dining room scene should have been on stage, not in the pit.  The Chorus under Fabián Martínez was acceptable when not amplified.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

Tribuna Musical: Curious “Don Giovanni” without Stone Guest

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