Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Belated Don Giovanni review

Mia and I have been to two of the three operas that Chicago Opera Theater is producing this spring. We'll go see Orlando next week but for now I'll give a long over due review of their production of Mozart's Don Giovanni (Diana Paulus, Jane Glover); the only Mozart opera produced in Chicago this season.

I'm sure that most of you have read Mia's reactions to the production, my reactions were not as violent, but I still think that they made some serious mistakes. The production was set in what appears to be a strip club that Don Giovanni owns, this means that the stage was full of hot writhing girl bodies essentially constantly. One of the problems here was that the chorus played the strippers -- let me tell you -- aspiring opera singers: not great pole dancers. Not that I have a basis of comparison really.

The first mistake in my mind was the portrayal of Donna Anna's rape. She was masked and in the club, and the way it was staged (sparkly golden curtain, lots of laughter) made it seem complicit. The only place that you see something is going wrong is that Don Giovanni removes her mask (and therefore her honor?) but not his own. We're also not clear as it happens that the man who defends her is her father. You really think that he's another lover, or her pimp or something. Honestly, what is a father doing in a club with is daughter anyway? Either way it leaves the audience with out the pity and heart break that they are supposed to feel for Donna Anna. The woman was raped and then her father was killed by the man who raped her. Of course she's messed up! Here however she just comes across as whiny because we don't get the magnitude of what happened.

The second mistake I think they made is related to my comment about the dancing girls: they were alway on stage. There was just too much going on at all times, I needed fewer things happening so I could focus. During Leporello's aria listing the Don's conquests, they had girls holding numbers. Really this sort of gimmick added nothing and just cluttered the stage.

The third mistake I thought they made was in the casting of Masetto. He was just too good looking, you don't really get why Zerlina goes off with this creepy older fellow. Masetto should be cast as sort of bumbling and foolish. Here he was certainly hot headed, but handsome enough to forgive.

Finally I want to have a discussion of the ending. I don't count the ending as a mistake. Normally after the Don descends to hell all of the characters sing about how those who are evil get what's coming to them and are joyous because they are rid of a terrible influence in their lives. In this production all of the characters are singing and the police are investigating and they come and handcuff all who were trying to prove that the Don was an evil guy. He certainly was, but as they're arrested you have to pause remind yourself that none of the characters have been particularly "good" in their actions. I liked this. Then the curtain to the upper part of the stage is lifted and you see Don Giovanni hanging, covered in blood with a ball gag in his mouth. So you're left wondering, what was the falling to hell scene? Did they all band together and murder him in a sick and twisted way and the commodore taking him to hell was what? At that point it was just too much visual stimulus. There had been too many negative sexual tropes and too much violence for the audience to be shocked out of their seats. It was almost insult to injury at that point.

So the ending was well thought out but poorly executed. In fact I would say that this is my analysis for the entire show, except for the Donna Anna thing, that was poorly thought out.

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