Don Giovanni, Salzburg

His radical conception of the connection
between opera and philosophy is seen all throughout his work; this is
especially clear in his four part Ring cycle. In the popular
imagination, the Ring cycle has become the most recognizable
multi-part operatic work. This is why this year’s Salzburg
Festival’s presentation of all three of Mozart’s Da Ponte operas as
a continuous trilogy is eyebrow-raising. Although it may seem strange on paper,
Claus Guth’s choice to present these operas (Le nozze di Figaro,
Don Giovanni, and CosÏ fan tutte) as a continuous statement
on the dark side of human nature makes sense. However, during the transition
from creative concept to stageds production, something went awry. As a result,
this production was a potpourri of fleeting inspirations.

Guth’s conception of the trilogy is to be commended for stagings of
reasonable merit. His production of CosÏ fan tutte used elements from
both Figaro and Don Giovanni to present the libretto as if it
were a social experiment gone wrong. His stage pictures illustrated the
deteriorating relationships between the characters as well as the evil inherent
in Don Alfonso’s scheme. On the whole, this gave refreshing depth to
CosÏ. The problem however, is Guth’s staging of Don
only hints at its place in the trilogy as a bridge between the
mostly safe world of Figaro to the tumultuous world of

hires-giovanni_2011_050.gifMalin Bystrˆm as Donna Anna and Gerald Finley as Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni occupies a unique place in the Da Ponte trilogy.
Unlike Figaro where the potential for evil is never fully in the
foreground, Giovanni is evil personified. While ultimately, Giovanni is
vanquished by death, the characters of CosÏ are forced to confront
their own imperfections. If Guth wanted to view the three operas as an evil
trilogy, this is the direction he should have taken. Instead, he took liberties
with the libretto of Don Giovanni that ultimately caused some
confusion with character development as well as with the progression of the

As Giovanni, Gerald Finley gave a searing performance which carries on the
mantle of Sir Thomas Allen. What would have been an otherwise electric
performance, was hindered by Guth’s decision to have Giovanni
“fatally” wounded at the outset; limiting his ability to inhabit
the strong body of the slimy villain . This gives rise to another more
unfortunate question: if Don Giovanni is so near death, what makes him a force
to be reckoned with? This also left me with mixed emotions regarding the
character. Take for example, “Fin ch’han dal vino”, whereby
Finley poured a can of beer over himself and then proceeded to shake like a
ferocious wet dog. This was scary to watch. Needless to say, his singing
enhanced his actions. Yet at the end of the aria, he collapsed to the floor.
The message here is unclear. It would have been better if he ended the aria
with the typical maniacal laugh.

As Donna Anna, Malin Bystrˆm sang in the big-voiced tradition of Sharon
Sweet. The most interesting facet of her performance was her rendition of
“Or sai chi l’onore”. Here Donna Anna became someone who was
exposed and vulnerable due to the murder of her father, as opposed to the more
typical strong woman who screams at her fiancÈ in order to avenge this death.
However, in this production, Donna Anna played into another flaw:
Giovanni’s attempted rape of Donna Anna which normally begins the opera
was portrayed as a consensual affair. Under this circumstance the whole
rasion d’etre of the rage of Donna Anna and the villainy of
Giovanni remain unsubstantiated. Despite the opera’s tragic elements,
this is still an opera buffa. A key feature of opera buffa is
the unflattering portrayal of the aristocracy. In this production, the
aristocracy, which is symbolized by Don Giovanni, does not experience the
ridicule to the same degree as there is a deficiency of the villainy Don

hires-giovanni_2011_026.gifGerald Finley as Don Giovanni, Dorothea Rˆschmann as Donna Elvira and Erwin Schrott as Leporello

Dorothea Rˆschmann, as Donna Elvira, sang powerfully, giving an excellent
case for Donna Elvira as a tragic heroine, which was strengthened in synergy by
Bystrˆm’s portrayal of Donna Anna as a weak character. Christiane Karg
was a girlish Zerlina who could also show great concern and substantial depth
of character as necessary. Adam Plachetka, as Masetto, made it clear that he
understood the evil Giovanni from the very beginning. Both Don Ottavio and
Leporello, played by Joel Priesto and Adrian S‚mpetrean, respectively were
admirably sung.

Under the direction of Yannick NÈzet-SÈguin, the Vienna Philharmonic made a
fine case for the symphonic capabilities of Mozart’s score. However, his
tempos were slow at the beginning, and the numerous florid accompaniments to
the recitatives were distracting. That said, he brought a romantic
expansiveness to certain pieces, including “L‡ ci darem la

It remains to be said that some of the humor of the production diminished
the overall dramatic effect. The humor of Mozart’s tragic comedy should
arise from situations that are detailed in the libretto, not from the staging.
There were several instances, such as Giovanni taunting Zerlina and Masetto
while on a swing, that were humorous, while at the same time illustrating the
Don’s capacity for villainy. Yet, other gags consisted of elaborate stage
movements that were difficult to follow and at times disrupted the flow of the
drama. The imbalance produced by these attempts at comedy was symbolic of the
overall effect of Guth’s production. In this adaptation, there were
moments of inspiration that were somehow lost.

Gregory Moomjy

Click here for a video trailer of this production.

image_description=Gerald Finley as Don Giovanni [Photo © Monika Rittershaus courtesy of Salzburg Festspiele]
product_title=W. A. Mozart: Don Giovanni
product_by=Gerald Finley: Don Giovanni; Franz-Josef Selig: Il Commendatore, Donna Anna’s father; Malin Bystrˆm: Donna Anna, betrothed to Don Ottavio; Joel Prieto: Don Ottavio; Dorothea Rˆschmann: Donna Elvira, a lady from Burgos; Erwin Schrott / Adrian S‚mpetrean (23.08): Leporello, Don Giovanni’s servant; Christiane Karg: Zerlina, a peasent girl, betrothed to Masetto; Adam Plachetka: Masetto, a peasant. Felice Venanzoni: Continuo Piano Forte. Antje Strˆmsdˆrfer: Mandolin. Vienna Philharmonic. Members of Angelika Prokopp Sommerakademie der Wiener Philharmoniker, Stage Music. Concert Association of the Vienna State Opera Chorus.
product_id=Above: Gerald Finley as Don Giovanni

All photos © Monika Rittershaus courtesy of Salzburg Festspiele