Opening night at La Scala: Mozart's Don Giovanni
13 December 2011, Milan, Italy
Bryn Terfel (Leporello) with Peter Mattei (Don Giovanni)
Anna Netrebko (Donna Anna)
Review by Courtney Smith
Photos by Brescia e Amisano/Teatro alla Scala
Robert Carsen’s new production of Mozart’s cautionary tale Don Giovanni, which launched Teatro alla Scala’s 2011/12 season on 7 December in Milan, unfolded as a Hollywood parable – if you're rich and famous enough, you can get away with murder. It’s an allegory that reverberates strongly with Italians who are reeling from the aftermath of Silvio Berlusconi’s 17-year reign as a notorious Don Juan figure.
Berlusconi’s replacement, former economist Mario Monti, joined Italy’s President, Giorgio Napolitano in the Royal Box to show Italy that arts funding will not be threatened as it was under Berlusconi’s government. After the recent proposal of Monti's 30-billion-euro austerity package, La Scala’s elegant foyer was packed with a sober crowd in understated dress – by opening night standard, at least.
Carsen always bring big ideas to opera, but source material for Don Giovanni is clear: he’s the 'dissoluto punito' (punished rake). Instead, Carsen’s Don went unpunished for his immoral behavior and appeared in the finale to smugly send the ensemble to hell in his place with the point of a finger. The mediated rewrite stripped Da Ponte’s multilayered archetypes of free will and emotional connections were broken.
Carsen’s mise-en-scène was austere, set entirely in Teatro alla Scala – its stage and its guts. Self-referential landscape comprised of stage curtains on rolling panels, photo panoramas of the theater’s auditorium, and a stage-sized mirror. As Don Giovanni's lies compounded, scenery layers stretched to infinity, culminating in Donna Elvira's Act II 'In quali eccessi, o Numi'.
Boasting a star-studded cast, tickets evaporated in minutes. Peter Mattei was in strong form as deux ex machina Don Giovanni, an aloof seducer who pulled the strings of all those in his orbit. Bryn Terfel as Leporello expertly balanced buffoonery and severity.
Anna Netrebko bowed her La Scala premiere as a confident Donna Anna in rich color and striking vocal power. She was paired with Don Ottavio sung earnestly by Giuseppe Filianoti. Barbara Frittoli sang Donna Elvira as a jealous, insecure stalker in lush, warm voice. Il Commendatore as Kwangchul Youn made a big presence in a compacted role. Masetto and Zerlina, sung by Štefan Kocánand Anna Prohaska respectively, were the weakest.
Daniel Barenboim took the podium for the first time as Teatro alla Scala’s new Music Director, but seemed unsure if Mozart’s dramma giocoso should be conducted as drama or tragedy. Uneven with idiosyncratic tempos, Act I dragged at such a slow pace that when Barenboim took the podium for Act II, an audience member from the famous loggione gallery levels shouted 'troppo lento' ('too slow').
Despite some stunningly re-scripted moments – Act I’s funeral of Il Commendatore had been transported to a church and Scene IV’s lavish ball was genius in its progressive breakdown – Carsen’s partiality to the dapper Don’s immorality earned him boos during the curtain call, as well as Barenboim for his indecisiveness.