vendredi, février 02, 2007

Don Giovanni of the Financial District

By the time I got home and got to bed the night before, it was really, really late (or rather early, depending on how you see it), so I slept in quite a bit before finally crawling out of bed and taking care of some work. That evening, I had been given tickets to go see Mozart's Don Giovanni at Opéra Bastille with some colleagues from work. It had been a while since I had dressed formally, so I put on a suit and tie and headed off to the opera.

Although Mozart's score and Da Ponte's libretto are beautiful, and the musical performances that night were mostly lovely, the mise-en-scène I don't want to say "terrible" or "stupid" or whatever, because I think the idea had potential, but the execution was disappointing. The director took the story of a young corrupt noble / shameless ladies' man from 18th-century Spain (and his eventual comeuppance) and re-set it in a steel-and-glass office building. The set is a monochrome blue-grey, showing what seems like a break room / common area downstage, offices and an elevator stage left, and a set of windows looking down over an atrium stage right. Everyone is in business attire (or, for the peasants, janitorial uniforms), Leporello reads his catalog aria from a palm pilot, and this deserted cafeteria stands in for bedroom scenes, outdoor scenes, party scenes and even the final dinner scene. This image, from the Bastille's website for the performance, gives a taste of the staging and costuming:

Anyway, the visual palette for the opera was monochrome to say the least, and this also informed the stage direction and musical performances. The performers tended to move very little, often eschewing the stylized expressive gestures that serve as a coded language of affect and emotion in operatic performance. The music was similarly flat; Leporello's catalog aria was smooth and lyric and controlled, rather than buffo and brilliant and campy. Similarly, Donna Anna's rage aria (Me tradisti quell'alma ingrata) sounded more like a Gilbert&Sullivan patter song. In an odd change of libretto, Don Giovanni doesn't deliver his famous canzonetta, Deh, vieni alla finistra, to the maid of a woman he had romanced and abandoned (as a show of how insensitive and promiscuous he is), but instead pathetically to himself, lying on the floor and wrapped in Leporello's jacket.

In fact, there were a lot of odd changes. Many humorous or fun scenes were made dark and uncomfortable, often with the goal of painting Don Giovanni as a sadistic rapist. What was wooing in the libretto became aggressive groping onstage; what was flirting became sexual assault and humiliation, and what was ravishing became full-on rape. While one might argue (and I think the director would) that Da Ponte's libretto implies the latter terms when he employs the former ones, this attempt at détournement/verfremdung through making things explicit just seems to result in banality. Modernist deformations of pre-modernist works is now a long-standing tradition, so the effect for me was less "scathing critique" and more "cheap shock value."

So, all of this adds up to me saying that the mise-en-scène was wrong. The idea of doing a Don Giovanni--The Office mash-up could've been great, but the end result was preachy and heavy-handed rather than funny and tragic. Meh.

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