You can always blame it on the Russian

The Don Giovanni of the winter season 2015 at the COC is the same Dmitri Tcherniakov’s Don Giovanni seen at the open stage of Aix-en-Provence’s festival. This time it appears that the production of which I have seen a dress rehearsal came across somewhat different.

Keeping the same stage throughout was perhaps accommodation to the limitations of the open stage in Aix rather than an attempt at minimalism. It is a key characteristic of Tcherniakov’s take on Don Giovanni. It is a hall of an urban household with custom-made pillars of bookcases symmetrically on both sides of the main entrance. There are no-name dinnertable chairs and a large rectangular dinnertable. The floor is covered with a large carpet. At the centre above is a humongous chandelier that can be anywhere from the Thirties until the late Sixties. I would say that it is a post-WWII situation. It is the same location of the memorial service upon the Commendatore’s passing and his family home. Donna Elvira is a cousin of Donna Anna. Zerlina, who in the original libretto is a peasant bride in a passerby wedding, is actually a daughter of Donna Anna, from her first marriage.

Although apparently at home, none of them behaves at home in that space. Don Giovanni appears more at home at this place than any of the women whose home it actually is. All the women are as if they were in a public place or asylum, but not at home.

A lot has already been written about costumes and what sort of character and habits that costumes imply. From where I was watching the costumes were for the most part indistinct. Zerlina’s wedding gown is post-Nineties hip hop. Elvira’s allegedly subdued elegance is in fact reduced to a drab, anonymous, grey outfit most suitable for basement cleaning. The Don himself is mostly dressed in a casual summer attire of a downtown homeless man attending a lunch at an upscale charity. And likewise his hairdo. For some unknown reason he appears frequently barefoot. The singers are subjected to protracted periods of lying scattered on the carpet over the stage, and I was not able to decipher what Tcherniakov meant to say by that.

There are numerous occasions when the singers are lacking guidance in stage movements and stood idle on the scene, almost not inhabiting the role. The interactions were occasionally in the direction of explicit and somewhat distasteful groping on the aggressive side which did not enhance any meaning that would be consistent and integrated into a larger context. Furthermore, the lighting was in particular neglected.

Most praiseworthy in this Don Giovanni are the singers. My favourites are Jane Archibald and Michael Schade. Russell Brown as the Don will not be remembered for any of the Don’s memorable arias. Peter Mattei’s Don Giovanni of the 2002 Aix-en-Provence Festival still reigns supreme, if you ask me.

The stage rendition of the famous Leporelo’s Madamina is a sadly missed opportunity to breed in some fun in this Don. While Leporello is uttering into the void air the geographical tallies of his master’s getting laid in the spirit of sport, Donna Anna is standing idle in a non-responsive state.

When I saw the live stream from Aix-en-Provence thanks to a helpful link from Parterra Box, the utmost authority in opera blogosphere, the then Don was more of a pater familias and there were more scenes of sitting at the table, which dignified every character to some extent, as is suitable to a living room or study.

The contextual reading of Don Giovanni by Calixto Bieito is an example of an integrated vision where the mannerism, costume and conduct of the people belonging to the shady edges of the underworld result in a coherent and powerfully told story. Or the Don Giovanni by Martin Kusej, with each character distinct and developed, yet the whole narrative elevated to the sphere of universality.

Plenty of explanatory materials have already been written in anticipation of this Don Giovanni. I would recommend that those who are interested in following the rising star of Jane Archibald and enjoy the privilege of listening the Michael Shade should come and listen with the eyes shut. The orchestra played a rendition, here and there, to my ears accentuated in an enriching and energizing way. Worth listening to, but watching may disappoint you. If criticism outweighs the accolades you can always blame it on the Russian.

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