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Meanwhile, in Another Part of the Forest...

August 10, 2010

Christopher Maltman and Erwin Schrott
Photo: Monika Rittershaus/Salzburg Festival 2010

The Salzburg Festival upped its celebrity hoo-haa quotient this weekend with the opening of the first of its two opera revivals this summer, Claus Guth’s controversial staging of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which was last seen here in 2008. Much of the stellar cast from the prior outing remains intact including Christopher Maltman in the title role, Dorothea Röschmann as Donna Elvira, and Erwin Schrott as Leporello. Of course, Schrott is one half of this decade's Salzburg glamour couple, the other half being soprano Anna Netrebko who opens up in Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette here on August 10. And, of course, this being Salzburg, when she showed up to her husband's opening night all big-hair and red satin evening gown, the audience went all googled-eyed, standing and taking their own photos as she entered the theater as if she were Cameron Diaz or something. Netrebko and Schrott love Austria and, baby, it loves them right back. I have to admit there is a part of me that's jealous that opera starts don't get this kind of treatment in the U.S. as I sit here watching lengthy profiles of Netrebko, Andris Nelsons, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and the winner of Salzburg's firs Young Conductors Award, David Afkham, on television tonight.

But I digress. There was some Mozart to attend to, and it was attended to quite well with utmost care. This time around the conducting fell to Yannick Nézet-Séguin (who’ll also be leading the Vienna Philharmonic in Romeo et Juliette). He’s got the chops to keep things moving and his Mozart never got too heavy or dragged. Of course, you can’t go wrong when the Vienna Philharmonic plays just about anything, so there was little to complaint about from the pit. On stage the cast was pretty much excellent in both acting and singing terms. Maltman and Schrott are cast as drug-addicted low-lifes in Guth’s vision, but they manage to inject the parts with a lot of dark humor. Schrott does this whole drug twitch thing that’s hysterical. And then there’s the pecs and guns issue. This is not a staging for out-of-shape guys, that’s for sure. And while pretty much everybody is fully dressed the whole time, if you doubt it’s a consideration, just check out which image made the cover of the upcoming DVD release of the 2008 performance.

I was particularly thrilled to hear Dorothea Röschmann who has pretty much dominated every Mozart role she has sang here over the last several years. She’s is simply amazing. Best of all, she didn’t outclass anybody in the cast. Aleksandra Kurzak sang Donna Anna with real tenderness and clarity. Meanwhile, Joel Pietro made his Salzburg debut as Don Ottavio when the scheduled Joseph Kaiser called in sick for the opening. Anna Prohaska was convincing in a very physical Zerlina. Adam Plachetka, who sang Masetto, was good as well and got in on the hairy bare chest action in his limited stage time.

As for the Guth staging, what a difference two years makes. While he got nowhere near the audience response anyone else did on opening night, there were few if any boos to be heard either. All of the opera’s action is set in a very realistic looking dark forest. The huge wooded area fills the stage and rotates with characters popping out of the dark for scenes at every turn. The main conceit is that Giovanni is shot in the abdomen by the Commandetore during their altercation in the very first scene and our favorite player spends the rest of the opera living on borrowed time as he knows he is slowly dying himself, though still going throughout the motions that make him who he is. Giovanni and Leporello are portrayed as junkies and shoot up in the arm and neck on at least one occasion. There are handguns at times and a scene where Donna Anna and Don Ottavio drive a car onto the stage where Giovanni poses as a mechanic in another failed effort to seduce Donna Anna. This somber tone is maintained right through the end when the final chorus is eliminated in favor of Giovanni’s descent into hell being the last word. Guth notes n the program that for him Don Giovanni is not funny and he resolves the tone problems of the opera by focusing instead on what he perceives as the protagonist's struggle to come to terms with his own death. Certainly a reasonable idea and I felt it was a very enticing and good-looking staging. I appreciated the relentless sobriety underpinning a rather disturbing story that is sometimes too easily played for laughs. But admittedly, this forest scenario provides few distinctions between scenes and can be a bit hard to follow. Guth also upends many of the characters’ individual motivations in various scenes in a way that makes sense, but may be hard for some audience members to absorb. But no matter. This is one great sounding and star-studded Don Giovanni. And who is going to complain about that during the middle of a warm and beautiful Austrian summer.



I really like the new layout/color scheme for OWA.

Schrott at Leporello? But he's a great Giovanni. I'll have to see this on dvd, since you've made it sound very interesting.
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