Scene from Canadian Opera Company production of Don Giovanni, 2015. Photo: Michael Cooper, Canadian Opera Company.
Reviewed by James Karas
***** (out of five)
Many do it well.
A few do it terrifically.
A handful do such dazzling work that it amounts to creating a masterpieces from a masterpiece.
I speak of opera directors and especially of Russian director Dmitri Tcherniakov’s production of Don Giovanni for the Canadian Opera Company. All of us have preconceived notions of the legendary seducer including the way he is presented by Mozart. He is handsome, dashing, gallant, quick of mind and foot, amoral and fearless. A heroic figure if there ever was one.
Tcherniakov presents almost the opposite; almost a parody of the heroic figure. His Don Giovanni is an older man, who goes through the mechanics of seduction but is in fact a dried up drunkard to whom women are attracted but who has nothing to offer them.
Tcherniakov sets the opera in the Commendatore’s paneled library and changes many of the relationships of the characters in order to justify their presence in that house. Donna Elvira becomes Donna Anna’s cousin and Don Giovanni’s wife. Zerlina is Donna Anna’s daughter from a previous marriage and Leporello is a relative of the Commendatore.
Every scene contains an unexpected and at times surreal interpretation of the opera. In the opening scene Don Giovanni is famously seducing, even raping the Commendatore’s daughter. Not so. Donna Anna is trying to seduce him and when her father shows up Don Giovanni simply pushes him away.
After Masetto gets a thrashing from Don Giovanni, Zerlina, ever the master manipulator, comforts him with the soothing aria “Vedrai, carino.” She is supposed to sing to Masetto, of course, and finish the aria by putting his hand on her heart. In this production, she takes Don Giovanni’s coat from Leporello and sings to it. The woman is in love irrationally and completely with Don Giovanni.
In Act II Don Giovanni sings the gorgeous serenade “Deh! Vieni alla finestra,” with mandolin accompaniment, to Donna Elvira’s maid. In this production Don Giovani is drunk and alone as he sings and dances. He sings to no one and his movements suggest the Dance of Death. It is one of many utterly surreal and captivating scenes in the production.
Baritone Russell Braun has a pleasant if not big voice. It is well suited to the spent and dispirited Don Giovanni. He is a womanizer on automatic pilot, going through the motions but only a shadow of his former self. Braun’s voice contrasted with Kyle Ketelsen’s rich bass-baritone voice in the role of Leporello. Ketelsen gave us a Leporello with panache and devil-may-care attitude and some of the best singing of the evening.
Soprano Jane Archibald was a finely done Donna Anna, a sex starved woman who is trying to have sex with Don Giovanni and her hapless fiancé Don Ottavio. She sang better than she was able to exude the lusty sexuality of her character.
Don Ottavio is a wimp and is best if sung by a light tenor who is full of promises but is ineffectual. He has some beautiful arias. Unfortunately Michael Schade gave us an Ottavio who was more gruff than lyrical and his arias floated when they should have soared.
Jennifer Holloway as Donna Elvira displayed some vocal beauty and emotion but could not give us the anger that is inherent in a betrayed woman. She may still be in love with Don Giovanni who seduced her and abandoned her but her rendition of “Mi trade” (I was betrayed) needs some more punch.
Zerlina is not the sweet country girl but a smart teenager who becomes obsessed. With Don Giovanni and her ‘Batti, batti” and “Vedrai, carino” arias are given original and unexpected interpretations. Brava to Sasha Djihanian for superb work.
The Commendatore comes in for special treatment by Tcherniakov but bass Andrea Silvestrelli sings the last scene in a disappointing colorless monotone.
Michael Hofstetter conducted the Canadian Opera Company Opera.
This is a co-production with Festival Aix-en-Provence and Teatro Real Madrid and Bolshoi Theatre Moscow. It was performed in Aix-en-Provence in the summer of 2010 and 2013. One measure of the quality of the production may be the fact that I saw both Aix productions and could not wait for it to arrive in Toronto.
Tcherniakov’s take on the opera does not seem to arouse excitement in everybody. The night I saw it Torontonians managed to mute their excitement and the standing ovation that the production deserves. It was perhaps just a display of Canadian reticence if the face of something extraordinary.