Thursday, May 25, 2023

Douglas Messerli |" Bad Day on the Seville Streets" (on Mozart's Don Giovanni)

bad day on the seville streets

by Douglas Messerli

Lorenzo Da Ponte (libretto), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (composer) Don Giovanni / Los Angeles, LAOpera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Sunday, September 30, 2012

Certainly there is not much left to be said about Mozart’s masterwork, Don Giovanni; and it seems almost pointless to attempt to write, accordingly, about the opera. But one thing struck me in this story about a very “bad” day in the life of Don Giovanni (Ildebrando D’Arcangelo) while I watching the LAOpera version the other afternoon: except for a very few important scenes, this wealthy citizen of the upper class spends most of his time, like a vagabond, on the city streets. Indeed, one might almost describe the opera, metaphorically, as being like an intense Western, wherein the hero’s luck has changed, as in a work like Bad Day at Black Rock, where everything seems to be going against the already maimed man.

     Of course, Don Giovanni is not really a hero. He begins by attempting to rape Donna Anna (Julianna Di Giacomo), who—either out of an desire to have him finish the job or to out the villain to others, we do not know which—tries to hold the man close to her, as if the victim cannot release herself from the offender. When her father, the Commendatore (Ievgen Orlov) comes to her rescue, dueling with the ruffian, Don Giovanni kills him. From that moment on Don Giovanni is doomed to remain on the streets, for the most part, on the run for his actions—while still absurdly attempting to seduce each woman he encounters along the way.
     Because his life is so public, it is easy for his ex-wife, the furious Donna Elvira (Soile Isokoski) to find him. Indeed she is the very first person he encounters along his spiraling path down to hell. Donna Elvira is both a significant force against him—revealing Giovanni’s horrible deeds to anyone who might listen—and a of kind comic figure, a spectre appearing long before the Commendatore’s final ghostly manifestation, that haunts him wherever he goes, as well as foiling his attempts to seduce Zerlina (Roxana Constantinescu) and her maid.

   Twice during the long day on the road, however, Giovanni does return to his palatial estate, the first time to join in a drunken party he has ordered up so that he might get the men out of the way in order to bed Zerlina. Yet the sober if oafishly jealous Masetto stands in his way, while Zerlina herself—if at first all too ready to surrender to Giovanni’s seductions—remains steadfast in her love for Masetto.
     Again Giovanni takes to the street, this time, dressed as his servant Leporello, pretending to participate in a mad chase while really trying to save his own life. As the sun begins to sink, we still find him in a public space, this time in the cemetery where he encounters the Commendatore’s horrifying talking statue whom he flippantly invites to dinner.

    While Giovanni is at risk for most of day upon the streets, it is in his own home, as he sits down for a lonely dinner—even now torturing Leporello—where he is finally “captured” and brought to justice through the visitation of the Commendatore’s figuration.
   Hell, strangely enough (at least in the LAOpera version, based on the Lyric Opera of Chicago production) manifests itself in Giovanni’s own dining room, not in the public square, suggesting that it is Giovanni’s own private hell, not a spectacle of public proportions; only Leporello observes this event .

   Giovanni’s punishment, however, has resulted from all his public crimes, from his inability to remain alone but for but a few moments each day. It is almost as if Giovanni will not even sleep, so determined is he to seek out and find new prey. If the final show-down occurs out of the public eye, it is only because Giovanni is most vulnerable in his own house, since it is public transgressions that truly define who he is. A villainous gunslinger cannot play that role in a lonely farmhouse, just as a lascivious seducer cannot act out his identity in an empty estate. If the particular day Mozart and Da Ponte show us is the worst day of Giovanni’s life, it is—except for his murder of the Commendatore and his inability to seduce anyone—not much different from any other day; for Giovanni is a man doomed to roam Seville’s public streets and squares instead of enjoying the private pleasures of a wealthy life.

Los Angeles, October 4, 2012.

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