December 18, 2014
Don Giovanni destroyed by wanton production
For the Herald
Mozart against Mozart: creative freedom isn’t meant to ruin the work of othersDon Giovanni destroyed, is, I freely admit, a strong condemnation. But a critic’s first rule is to be completely sincere and to express his true feelings about what he saw. And I affirm that, according to my wits and long experience, this was the worst production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni that I ever saw. Readers know that my view is based on respect for libretto and music. Paradoxically, the musical side was rather good. Buenos Aires Lírica (BAL), at the Avenida, chose a fine group of Argentine singers, plus an interesting Venezuelan Leporello. But the culprit was the production team led by Marcelo Lombardero. He has been controversial before in Mozart (La clemenza di Tito and Le nozze di Figaro) but never to this extent.
Mind you, I have applauded such Lombardero productions as Jonny spielt auf (Krenek), Dialogues de Carmélites (Poulenc) or The Emperor of Atlantis (Ullmann). However, I feel that his temperament and talent work well in twentieth century operas but give diminishing returns in earlier centuries, simply because he has embraced the terrible European trend of German “konzept regie,” where the producer takes it upon himself to eliminate the essence of the masterpiece he tackles and superimpose a view of his own that most of the time has little to do with the original, thus robbing us of the original work.
I think that creative freedom doesn’t include ruining the work of others. As you probably know, Lombardero had a career as a baritone, and then he played both Don Giovanni and Leporello at the Teatro Argentino alternating with Luciano Garay, a worthwhile experiment. So Lombardero knows this opera inside out: his doings have nothing to do with ignorance, they are wholly premeditated. He wants to give a modified Don Giovanni, a twenty-first century one, and he doesn’t care if he tramples on the text and the very sense of what we see. He seems to feel that his changes are for the better and so are justified. Not for me.
I will parody Kipling’s If: if you accept that an eighteenth-century (or seventeenth or sixteenth, for that matter) libertine nobleman millionaire with a palace of his own should be portrayed as a sleazy cocaine-inhaling drunkard; if you believe that a peasant wedding should be transformed to a Tinellian disco with pipe dancing (baile del caño); if massive manhandling of women with gross sexual innuendo is the right way to match the elegance of Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto and the exquisite Mozartian music; if you are ready to exchange the supernatural, the stone statue of the Comendatore and the flames of Hell and convert the terrible scene of Don Giovanni’s damning into a portly man looking at Giovanni from a TV set; if...(an enormous etc.) all this is your cup of tea, then drink it. I’ll stick to my Earl Grey and see a good Giovanni of the fifties film passed to DVD (the Salzburg Furtwängler-conducted version with Siepi as a nonpareil Giovanni).
There’s always the moot point of what would happen if the producer’s collaborators don’t agree with him, but as Diego Siliano (stage designer, in this case of a ground floor and an upper floor, a separation of-10 badly used dramatically by Lombardero) and Luciana Gutman (costumes) are his habitual “partners”, they share his errors. Good lighting by Horacio Efron.
I have to touch on a delicate point: I was a solitary booer. I can’t believe that no one else felt my dismay, so this is my conclusion: many out of shyness do nothing, others are indifferent, another group doesn’t like it but accepts that you can’t go against the trend, and others are too uninformed to have an opinion. The sad thing is that some colleagues promote this orientation and predict a “descendence” from this Giovanni. And I’m afraid it might happen.
I didn’t enjoy Chilean conductor Pedro Pablo Prudencio’s work: this was violent, inelegant Mozart, although he held things together. The poor choristers had to go along with this production, which further featured underdressed dancers galore. Nicolás Luis was much too free in the recitatives and invented interludes unnecessarily.
Now a good word for the singers. They merited a better context to show their considerable talents. I welcome the long-awaited return of Nahuel Di Pierro, who is only 30: his voice is beautiful, he sings in tune and with style; he is a lyric bass-baritone. Iván García has a substantially big bass-baritone, capable of much impact; his Leporello was a bit too permissive and his looks aren’t what we expect from the part (he is a dark Venezuelan who seems always ready to dance a cumbia) but he has in his rough way a lot of presence.
Before I go on to the other men, congratulations to all three girls for their musicality and fine voices: Oriana Favaro (Donna Anna), María Victoria Gaeta (Donna Elvira) and Cecilia Pastawski (Zerlina) know the style and moved well, though some of the producer’s indications made me cringe.
I was impressed by the breath control and fine timbre of Santiago Bürgi as Don Ottavio. Mariano Fernández Bustinza was a sympathetic Masetto with a firm voice. And Hernán Iturralde was his stalwart self as the Comendatore, though his timbre was altered artificially in the damning scene.
Repent, BAL, before it’s too late: we need you but on a different course: one of construction, imagination and beauty.