Vienna production of Don Giovanni masterful blend of voice, music, staging

By George Jahn, AP
Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sex and blood and Mozart Don Giovanni

VIENNA — Blood. Glitzy costumes. Magnificent voices and gorgeous soloists. Clever directing.

Welcome to a very good production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

Friday’s staging Vienna’s Theater an Der Wien did not break new ground — the production first premiered in 2006.

But it has weathered well.

Directed by Keith Warner, this Don is more than a manic casanova who has had his way with more than 2,000 women in his life. The man is funny, tender, menacing — and ultimately pitiable, as he expires on stage in a plexi-glass case smeared by his own blood, rather than renouncing his licentious life.

Much of the credit goes to Erwin Schrott, a.k.a. Mr. Anna Netrebko.

Built like a god, and with a voice to match, Schrott’s Don Giovanni captivated the sellout crowd in the sculpted and gilt theater on the banks of Vienna’s huge farmer’s market.

Brutal? Yes, stabbing the father defending the honor of his daughter. Contemptible for the way he treats women as playthings? Surely.

But above and beyond all, Schrott’s Don was human, from the beginning — as a young rake concerned only with improving his “score” — to the final moments, when old but unrepentant, he goes to his own private hell.

A sinner? Yes, but above all, a man who remains true to himself.

Darkness. Death. Suffering. Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte had it otherwise in the original, with all the main characters wronged by the Don taking to the stage one more time to sing of their personal redemption, now that the evildoer had been dragged to the eternal fires in a scene that they meant to be merely symbolic — not bloody.

Not Friday. The stage falls as the hero-villain expires. A dark ending at odds with the ‘dramma giocoso” — jocular drama - envisaged by Mozart and Da Ponte. But one that leaves a more lasting impression.

And if Schrott had star qualities, the stage was a veritable Milky Way on Friday.

Hanno Mueller-Brachmann was the perfect foil to Schrott’s Don as his manservant, Leporello. Both baritones, the two complemented each other perfectly — two men on a shared life journey, an 18th century Odd Couple of the 18th century who coexist only because they cannot exist apart.

Nina Bernsteiner was a wonderful Zerlina, the maid who is one of the Don’s many targets. And Markus Butter captivated as a lovingly doltish Masetto, Zerlina’s sweetheart.

And stone-faced in this particular case is meant as a compliment — Attila Jun, the commendatore, the father who dies defending his daughter’s honor only to consign the Don to hell comes back as a very convincing marble bust to carry out his final duty.

Also good were Veronique Gens as Donna Elvira, Aleksandra Kurzak as Donna Anna and Bernard Richter (Don Ottavio). They were superb solo, in their trio “Protegga, i giusto cielo” and other ensemble singing.

Warner put most of the action in a hotel — a good choice for the opera’s amorous theme.

Riccardo Frizza coaxed the most out of the ensemble in the pit — members of the Radio Symphony Orchestra Vienna. A special kudos to cellist Maria Gruen, who shone in some of the more tender love duets between the Don and his victims.

For George Bernard Shaw, Don Giovanni was “eminent in its uncommon share of wisdom, beauty and humor.”

He would have enjoyed Friday evening.

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