Archive for November, 2010

Don Giovanni by the Incomparable Calixto Bieito

November 7, 2010



Calixto Bieito


Orchestra and Academy of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Chamber Choir of the Palau the la Musica Catalana

Stage Director: Calixto Bieito, Set Design: Alfons Flores, Costume Design: Mercè Paloma, Conductor: Bertrand de Billy, Lighting: Alan Burrett, Choral Director: Jordi Casas i Bayer, Assistant Musical Director: Guerassim Voronkov, Assisstant Stage Director: Joan Anton Rechi.

 Don Giovanni: Wojtek Drabowicz; Leporello: Kwanchul Youn; Donna Anna: Regina Schörg; Donna Elvira: Véronique Gens; Commendatore: Anatoly Korcherga; Zerlina: Marisa Martins, Masetto: Felipe Bou; Don Ottavio: Marcel Reijans, Recorded live at the Gran Teatre del Liceu 12th  and 17th  December 2002 , Opus Arte 2005.

Along a colonnade of highway lightposts a large Mercedes-Benz sedan with the lights turned on is driven slowly from backstage towards the audience, stopping in the middle. From the driver’s seat Leporello comes out dressed in golden chains and a wife-beater under an unzipped tracksuit, wearing white a la James Brown shoes and a watch resembling a Rolex. (I was never sure whether Rolex watches worn by such seedy characters are real or fake, but a recent article in the NewYorker (David Samuels: “the Pink Panthers” April 12, 2010, REporter at large p. 42) showed that there is a niche but global business for those who care to wear a genuine Rolex but prefer a mode of acquisition consistent with their strong sense of privacy.) Don Giovanni and Donna Anna in the back seat are engaged in a commotion suggesting sex, questionable on the issue of consent. Donna Anna’s father, sung and played by Anatoly Kocherga, known in the libretto as Commendatore, enters in dress pants and a white shirt, resembling a member of the upper mafia echelon. He furiously wields a baseball bat, smashing the back windshield.


From this opening scene follow, scene after scene, gruesome displays of human violence, degradation and filth equal only to the scenes seen in the TV series “The Wire”. It depicts images of a grey world cropping up in dangerous areas in big cities and around the black market crossroads of the, so called, third and undeveloped world. Calixto Bieito in his staging of the Don Giovanni brings the hot-and-sour taste of love and seduction from the perspective of the murky world of the lower social margins. But it occurred to me that the mechanics of love, celebration, party, seduction and betrayal, which are the themes of Don Giovanni with a minimal change in the decorum, actually resemble many niches across long vertical cut through the modern society at any given place.


The haste of the unredeeming lifestyle of this underworld is aptly supported by the orchestra with a sound of urgency, resoluteness and breathless presence. The singers responded unreservedly to intimidating role-playing expectations. This Don Giovanni possesses the adrenalin energy of life below the edge. The voices of this Don Giovanni are an interesting mix of the glorious Véronique Gens as Donna Elvira, the persuasive and subtle Regina Schörg as Donna Anna and Marisa Martin as Zerlina.  Special mention goes to the Korean baritone Kwanchul Youn, delivers a compact and compelling union of vocal the text and acting. This production made me think that a selection of a particular singer is essential for the success of a production. Wojtek Drabowicz may not rank among the top ten baritones of the world yet he was perfectly chosen for the title role, as Don Giovanni is not seen as noble, venerable not even humorous character in this production. Mr. Drabowicz can impeccably deliver a delicate phrase but also be wobbly and weak revealing vulnerability of this macho character. In “Deh vieni alla la finestra”, sung as a telephone call, Mr. Drabowicz conveys the chilling despair of a tired and hollow womanizer.

This clip from Youtube features Simon Keenlyside as Don Giovanni and Kyle Ketelsen as Leporello.

The same year that Don Giovanni was recorded for the DVD in the Gran Teatre de Liceu in Barcelona, the TV series “The Wire” was premiered on HBO. It was also the year of the golden jubilee of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, for which occasion the best portrait painter alive, Lucian Freud, painted the controversial portrait of her.

What do Mozart’s opera, a portrait of a mightiest monarch and the slums of Baltimore have in common? At the level of appearance these are disparate pieces which cannot possible be reconciled. We perceive and keep them in separate, mutually isolated, compartments of our minds surrounded by the sets of attributes we ascribe to each of them from our previous knowledge and understanding, according to which these three phenomena cannot, should not, and may not have anything in common.

 But, each of art piece mentioned above is telling us that it may not be quite so. Such a possibility is offending traditional or established beliefs and expectations. That is perhaps why so many feel that a production of a Mozart opera such as this one is a desecration of sort.  A wish to lock up Lucian Freud in the Tower of London was half-jokingly  expressed at the time the portrait was revealed to the public. The “Wire” is the first TV series that does not leave any character in its cliché good-bad portrayal, and as you watch the series you catch yourself realizing that you start to sympathize with the hideous murderer whom you initially perceived as irrevocably negative and evil, and then you see how he is only a naïve victim of a shrewd politician trusted by many to be the uncompromised messenger of good.

The truth of human nature can be revealed in those pieces of art whether portraying the corrosive facts of the failed housing projects, corrupt politics and inside madness of law enforcement, unembellished and without a “moral-of-the-story” wrapping. The portrait of a celebrated monarch may reveal the true weight of the Crown on a mortal human head showing the 50-year pressure and burden of unyielding demand to keep up appearance at the expense of many aspects of the human nature that belong as of right to all other people to indulge in.   

Calixto Bieito does not worship the pomp and prestige of the opera as an élite form of art or entertainment. The disturbing part for the opponents of Regietheater is not its apparent niche particularity or whimsical intrusion into the traditional, but the fact that with it the emerging truth continues to live a possibility of peculiar connections, of another layer of reality which connects across the worlds separate and apart revealing the reality concealed beneath the deceiving appearance.