Mozart – Don Giovanni

ONP Bastille, Wednesday January 24 2007

Conductor: Michael Güttler. Production: Michael Haneke. Don Giovanni: Peter Mattei. Il Commendatore: Mikhail Petrenko. Donna Anna: Carmela Remigio. Don Ottavio: Shawn Mathey. Donna Elvira: Arpiné Rahdjian. Leporello: Luca Pisaroni. Masetto: David Bizic. Zerlina : Aleksandra Zamojska.

Rossini’s La pietra del paragone, which I reviewed last week, is styled a melodramma giocoso. I mention this in case any passing directors might be looking for an insight into what giocoso means or meant back then, the custom being, with Il dissoluto punito ossia il Don Giovanni, dramma giocoso, to ignore the adjective and focus exclusively on the noun.

A bit like Chéreau’s Ring, Michael Haneke’s production of Don G. for the Paris opera started out being booed to the rafters but seems, now, to be considered a classic of sensible updating. Ignoring the adjective, Haneke plays the work as a brutal, sinister, sordid, (and musically sluggish) drama of abuse of power and sexual harassment by a corporate CEO. It takes place in a single set: the lift area on one of the upper floors of a contemporary skyscraper, with the high, curving windows of the atrium or light-well to the right, corridors winding away to the left and rear, the lift doors (on two levels) and doors to meeting rooms offering a glimpse of office furniture.

Leporello is the Don’s personal assistant and, as both wear grey suits, to change places they simply swap ties. The Commendatore is the Chairman, other characters are managers of one kind or another, and the contadini are the cleaning staff. The famous dinner is unpacked from a Fauchon bag. As the cleaning staff are at first celebrating, they have plastic party masks with them. And as the women among them have been abused, at the end (when the Don is confronted with the commendatore’s corpse, wheeled out in an office chair, not a statue) after Elvira has stabbed him, he is thrown out of the window by them.

You may wonder what Haneke has to do with the work being musically sluggish, but he does play a part as the recitatives (slow in themselves, as if deliberately pensive) and action are held up by long, pregnant pauses. (The evening stretched from 7.30 to 11.20.) But apart from that, I found the playing ponderous, more like Beethoven than Mozart (as if René Jacobs had never been born) and in particular, the orchestral recitatives were galumphing.

There was some heaviness too in the singing, with a tendency to drag the arias out sentimentally, sounding like Massenet or Meyerbeer. This may not have been the singers’ fault.

I said in an earlier review that these days “the tables are turned” and usually, in Mozart, the men are better than the women. Mattei hardly needs describing. Personally I don’t like his rapid vibrato, but he has an excellent Mozartian voice and acts well. The lady next to me found him incredibly sexy: “Je ne le coucherais pas dans la baignoire,” French for “I wouldn’t kick him out of bed.” Of Luca Pisaroni I wrote, when I first saw him in Alcina: “Luca Pisaroni at times reminded me – am I nuts? – of the young Ramey. Who is this tall, handsome young bass? I expect we’ll hear more of him.” Well, voilà, we’re hearing more of him and enjoying it very much. Shawn Mathey sounded like any Don Ottavio – what a dull, thankless part it is!

Arpiné Rahdjian is new to me and a powerful Elvira she made. Carmela Remigio was powerful too, only seemed less able to keep it all under control. To my neighbour, both were in fact “too loud” for Mozart. Aleksandra Zamojska, on the other hand – who keeps popping up at the opéra national in this and that - was an inadequate Zerlina: my neighbour claimed she couldn’t hear her “favourite arias” at all.

The production is handsomely done and I can see why people admire it but the gloom and doom of it are irritating to me. It would no doubt, nevertheless, transfer well to DVD. We’ll see.

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