Grand Don Giovanni, La Scala, Milan

This production starts controversially. Donna Anna (delicious Anna Netrebko)
tussles with Don Giovanni (Peter Mattei). We assume it’s rape, because nice
girls don’t do sex with strangers. What is she really objecting to, his
presence or his mask? How did Don Giovanni get past her defences? He’s a man
for whom the thrill of the chase may be more important than the act. So this
Donna Anna seems to be enjoying herself while claiming to resist. After all,
she has a fiancÈ and an image to protect. Don Ottavio (Giuseppe Filianoti)
isn’t convinced she loves him. Netrebko sings the recitative and “Non mi dir, bell’idol mio”, with such passion that you wonder what private
grief she’s trying to suppress. Netrebko’s Donna Anna is psychologically
complex, not simply a victim of an attack, but of the whole repressed, narrow
world she lives in. Netrebko’s performance was a tour de force of great
emotional depth, haloed by exceptionally lustrous orchestral playing.

Don Giovanni is a cad but he’s a charmer. Mattei is sexy, and sings with
alpha male confidence, but he expresses Don Giovanni’s appeal on deeper
levels. Don Giovanni embraces life — meals as well as women — and
deliberately flouts convention, whereas men like Don Ottavio and Masetto
(Stefan Kocan) cling to it. He offers choice. “» aperto a tutti quanti! Viva
la libert‡!”. Perhaps that’s why he only meets his match in The
Commendatore (superb Kwangchul Youn) who defies the constraints of death.
Mattei’s Don Giovanni has animal energy, and glories in it — what kind of
man keeps his own studbook? But Mattei also suggests the boyish impishness that
some women can’t resist. Women like Donna Elvira (Barbara Frittoli) need so
much to be needed that they fall for a trite ditty like “Deh vieni alla

Ultimately, Don Giovanni seduces because he fills women’s fantasies. He
also captivates men. Leporello (Bryn Terfel) is culpable for Don Giovanni’s
misdeeds, but he can’t break away. Mattei and Terfel are the same age, and
have created both Don Giovanni and Leporello, so it’s interesting to hear
them together. At first Terfel is costumed like a roughneck, which is a
complete mistake. No surprise that Terfel, who knows the opera thoroughly,
looks uncomfortable and doesn’t sing the catalogue aria as crisply as he has
done before. Don Giovanni wouldn’t hire a buffoon.

Once the silly costume is gone, Terfel shows why he’s a match for Mattei.
Their different styles bounce off each other, creating dramatic tension. Terfel
sounds like he’s about to explode with the violence Don Giovanni suppresses
under his urbane exterior. Mattei, though, is strong enough to stand up to this
savage Leporello, his elegant demeanour barely ruffled, for he knows Leporello
isn’t so different from Donna Anna and Donna Elvira. They all protest but
remain transfixed. The Mattei/Terfel dynamic shows the symbiotic relationship
between two strong personalities made uneven because of their social status.
The dinner party scene bristles with latent menace.

Everyone’s playing mind games in this opera. Zerlina (Anna Prohaska) keeps
up an illusion of innocence yet delights in kinky activities (read the text).
Zerlina is young, but no puppet. Prohaska’s movements are as crisp as her
diction, creating a pert, non-victim personality who could quite possibly pull
the strings on Don Giovanni if their positions were reversed. Prohaska is a
singer to follow.

This production, directed by Robert Carsen, emphasizes the games the
characters are playing. When Don Giovanni and Leporello change clothes, they
aren’t really fooling anyone who doesn’t want to be fooled. The set
(Michael Levine) resembles the curtain at the Teatro alla Scala, which Don
Giovanni “pulls” down in replica. The masqueraders emerge from the
audience, dressed in velvet, the colour of blood. It’s a good use of the
otherwise wasted space right down the middle of the theatre, and dramatically
correct for it engages the audience to take a stand on the morality in the

When the Commendatore rises from his grave, Kwangchul Youn’s magnificent
bass booms across the auditorium. It’s terrifying because the audience is
disoriented, just like Don Giovanni. Youn is standing in the royal box, with
the President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano. It’s a powerful statement, since
the Italian president isn’t an ordinary politician. Politicians screw around
like Don Giovanni, but the President of Italy, like Il Commendatore, is
supposed to represent higher ideals. Mattei and Youn struggle with such
intensity that it’s irrelevant whether Youn “is” or isn’t a statue. He
stabs Don Giovanni through with his sword. “Questo Ë il fin di chi fa mal”
sing the ensemble at the end. Often this epilogue feels unnatural after the
fireworks that went before. This time there’s a twist. Mattei stands on
stage, while the ensemble descends into a hole in the ground. In the real
world, Commendatores don’t appear by magic. Bad guys will win unless we take
responsibility against them.

Anne Ozorio

product_title=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni
product_by=Don Giovanni: Peter Mattei; Il Commendatore: Kwangchul Youn; Donna Anna: Anna Netrebko; Don Ottavio: Giuseppe Filianoti; Donna Elvira: Barbara Frittoli; Leporello: Bryn Terfel; Zerlina: Anna Prohaska; Masetto: Stefan Kocan. Conductor: Daniel Barenboim; Director: Robert Carsen; Sets: Micahael Levine; Costumes: Brigitte Reiffenstuhl. Teatro alla Scala, Milan, 7th December 2011 (broadcast live internationally).