"Heavenly music... hell of an ending" said the flyer. Yesterday, Lucìa and I went to the last performance of Don Giovanni by the BLO. It was quite enjoyable, but I have a few objections to the production.
Mozart wrote great music, and though I am sometimes disappointed about which bits he and Da Ponte chose to develop or not develop, it's a bit too late to change the already very entertaining score. And so I'll direct my criticism to the current interpretation. The set, which was the same for both acts, was rather poor in features; the direction made do with excellent lighting tricks, as well as occasionally veering into symbolism, especially so and somewhat disappointingly in the finale. However, considering the strictures of the budget and the limitations of the Shubert Theater, I will not object to such choices. The singing was honorable, though of the cast only Susanna Phillips distinguished herself, as Donna Anna. Kimwana Doner on the other hand was way too serious in each of the revealed aspects of the ultimately fickle Donna Elvira. Matthew Burns is passable but fails to shine as Leporello, notably in his main piece Madamina, il catalogo è questo.
But what really bothered me was Christopher Schaldenbrand's portrayal of Don Giovanni as a cheap loser, someone who isn't even the hero of his own drama, but the victim of events. Violence, money and luck seem to be his only weapons, and his confrontation of the Commendatore seems inspired mainly by the abuse of alcohol. From the way he acts, you wonder how he seduced all those women; maybe his catalog of female conquests is itself a lie. Yes, Don Giovanni is a truly evil character, who isn't above rape, murder and fraud. However I like to think of him as someone who isn't afraid of anyone or anything, not even ghosts, not even hell. Not a loser, but a go-getter, who knows what he wants, will do anything, anything, to get it, and usually does get it, for he is master in his own specialty. A bad guy, certainly, but a most competent bad guy, who will certainly not go down without putting up a good fight, and won't lose unless he finds a hero great enough to vanquish him.
And so for all I know, his eventual abduction by a ghost may be Don Giovanni's latest invention, staged by himself to get rid of all these former victims who are now running after him and spoiling his fun. His being taken to hell by the animated statue of the commander through a gaping hole in the ground alit with huge flames is timed just so that these pursuers can witness it through a window. Then, whereas in the front of the stage his irate victims turned chasers sing his demise in their final moralizing Questo è il fin, I see a trapdoor opening in the floor in the back of the stage. Out of it climbs the actor who played the statue of the commander, now quite limber rather than slow as a rigid statue; soon he's helping Don Giovanni himself out of the basement. As the actor starts removing the make up and the costume of the commander, Don Giovanni takes out his purse and pays him in gold. When he is done, the actor salutes and leaves, and Don Giovanni makes a sign to Leporello to continue with the plan: keeping the idiots busy singing and believing, while he gallops to the next city where Leporello will join him later. Before he goes, Don Giovanni dons the long clothes of a monk, complete with a hood hiding his face. One last time, he makes obscene gestures at his victims, to silently mock their superstition. His evil adventures may very well be headed to an inevitably violent conclusion, it's just not going to come from this particular gullible lot. He then walks victoriously to the door, composes himself into the character of a travelling monk, and leaves the stage incognito.
At least, that's how things would turn out if I had a say in a production of Mozart's masterpiece. It would certainly bother me quite a bit to let the scoundrel literally get away with murder scot-free; but after all unhappy endings are par for the course in Opera.