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Don Giovanni (Teatro Real Madrid)
25 Mar 2007

MOZART: Don Giovanni

This 2005 production of the Mozart-Da Ponte masterpiece Don Giovanni makes for a frustrating experience.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni

Carlos Álvarez, Alfred Reiter, María Bayo, José Bros, Sonia Ganassi, Lorenzo Regazzo, Antonio López, José Moreno, Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Real Madrid Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Víctor Pablo Pérez (cond.), Lluis Pasqual (stage director).

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All the essential elements for a success seem to be in place: a fine cast, a handsome production from Madrid's Teatro Real (updated to pre-WWII Spain), an impassioned performance from conductor and orchestra. Yet the net effect is much less than the sum of its parts. Why?

Attention to detail, at any level, cannot be the fault. Stage director Lluis Pasqual has each singer well into his/her character, and other than the firearms for swords and an occasional bicycle ride, no actions the characters take are removed from those of the libretto's "original intentions," as traditionalists would have it. Both set designer Ezio Frigerio and costume designer Franca Squarciapino have done outstanding work, at the level of a high-budget period film. The stone city walls stand solid, if aged. The amusement park setting for the scenes in the country side around the Don's home look ready to entertain real customers (especially the colorful bumper cars). The costumes, mostly in dark, heavy fabrics with the exception of some touches of color for the females, appear lived-in, and represent this production's view of the "good" people as staid, sheltered folk. This plays right into the dichotomy of the revengers' search for the Don speaking as much to his attraction for them as to the offenses he has committed against them.

And lighting designer Wolfgang von Zeubek should not be slighted, especially with the lovely blue-wash he lays over many scenes.

In a short interview on disc two, Carlos Alvarez says (in Spanish), "I am Don Giovanni." A rather distressing claim, as the Don he portrays in this production leans to the more aggressive, unpleasant side. Boastful, mean-spirited, and not all that attractive, this is not a Don who evokes much audience empathy for his transgressive pursuit of his own pleasure. Despite that, Alvarez definitely has the role down vocally, and one can imagine that in a production with a different interpretation, he could be more charming and seductive.

Lorenzo Regazzo's big-voiced Leporello parallels Alvarez's Don by seeming more grasping, cowardly than usual, and his catalog aria feels like his own boast. Likewise, Masetto, as sung by José Antonio López, doesn't emphasize the innocence of his character. He looks like a "Don-wannabe" in his heavy jacket and cap, a thug who just hasn't had the breaks the Don has. On the other hand, for once Don Ottavio is not a wimp. The excellent José Bros portrays a confident man who never doubts his woman and leads the revengers, rather than tags along.

Maria Bayo's Donna Anna doesn't have the plushness of the role's most esteemed exponents, but her experience and the sweetness of her tone make her very effective. Sonia Gannassi has more shrillness than even the character of Donna Elvira might require. Maria José Moreno's Zerlina is up to the smaller challenge of her role, even while pedalling a bicycle.

Favoring fleet tempos and energetic dynamics, Victor Pablo Pérez leads the fine Madrid orchestra. He and director Pasqual also get interview segments on the second disc.

If Pasqual had a larger message to his production, it evaded this viewer, even with the help of historic newsreel footage played under the final ensemble after the Don's descent to hell (in cold blue light, with Alvarez strangely waving goodbye to the audience). Perhaps only a Madrid audience can truly feel the power of some analogy between the early Franco era and the world of the Don.

This set offers so much that entrances the eye and pleases the ear, it feels wrong to dismiss it. Let it just be said that while the impact the production seems to promise never gets delivered, the effort deserves respect. Any number of traditional productions on DVD might please many a viewer. For those looking for a more successful exponent of the "dangerous Don" angle, go for the Bieto from Barcelona.

Chris Mullins

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