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Boston Lyric Opera Presents:  Don Giovanni

By Jennifer Kreingold
May 2015

Boston Lyric Opera Presents:  Don Giovanni
Composed by W.A. Mozart
Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte
Directed by Emma Griffin
Citi Performing Arts Center, Boston, MA
May 2015

Boston Lyric Opera’s production of Mozart’s masterpiece Don Giovanni merely reaffirmed what most cognizant Americans already think: that most societies, like ours today, don’t “make it” - they have failed or collapsed due to bad decisions and evil prevailing over the “Good.”  This production, from the very first note of the orchestra, directed by David Angus,  to the horrifying final scene where Don Giovanni (in this particular production) is strangled to death by one of the women he has “wronged,” left this reviewer and her companion in a state of shock and deeply disturbed, but not reflective, as Mozart intended.

Mozart’s Don Giovanni is a dark story of the sexually-obsessed nobleman Don Giovanni, who manipulates everyone around him, and nobody quite has the courage or will, to stop his evil actions. At various moments in the opera, where Giovanni could be exposed, as in the first party scene when he tries to rape the peasant bride to be Zerlina, he pins the blame on his servant Leporello It’s probably the case that most people at the party know it was in fact Don Giovanni, but nobody has the courage to speak up. 

Also, in the original version, Mozart’s final scene includes all the characters coming on stage, after Don Giovanni has been condemned to Hell, and they all sing of their future plans, now that the evil-doer is gone.  The irony is that none of them are reflective, none have learned anything, and none have any intention of changing their behavior or identity; in fact, Leporello says he needs to find a new master!  In the Vienna version (commonly performed today), that final scene is taken out, and it ends with Giovanni descending into Hell.

There were a number of crucial aspects of this production that detract from Mozart’s and Da Ponte’s intention:  one was the lack of clear “class” distinction between the characters.  For example, in da Ponte’s libretto, Giovanni and Leporello “happen” upon Zerlina and Masetto’s wedding party and he seduces her on the spot in front of all her peasant friends, using his position as a nobleman.  But, in this production, the wedding party was set inside Don Giovanni’s house, so there was no element of the nobility versus  the peasantry- instead the attendees to the party were Don Giovanni’s friends.  This created confusion to the audience member as it reduces Don Giovanni’s character to merely a sexual predator, when in fact, he actually represents an oligarchy that adheres to an ideology of being better than most other people, and thus manipulates and treats other human beings like animals, for amusement.

While Donna Elvira’s character came across quite strongly, partially through the power of Jennifer Johnson Cano’s powerful mezzo voice and complimentary red dress, the character of Donna Anna sung competently but dispassionately by soprano, Meredith Hanson, came across as an empty vacuous weeping creature. But, maybe this was intentional, in an attempt to present Donna Anna’s character that way.

Da Ponte’s libretto is extremely satirical and comical, especially the back and forth between Don Giovanni and Leporello.  While Kevin Burdette (as Leporello) did an excellent job, not only vocally, but dramatically, and especially in the “Catalogue Aria,” (Madamina. . .), his comedic lines seemed out of place in this production, because the overall character of the opera was exceedingly dark.

Photo: Boston Lyric Opera.
The BLO's Don Giovanni and Leporello.

The intention, according to the Program Notes, was to tell the story from the standpoint of the women who are wronged:  “In this new production, audiences see Don Giovanni from the point of view of his conquests,” says BLO General and Artistic Director Esther Nelson. “The machismo sometimes celebrated in other productions is definitely a liability here. And the talented, beautiful, young cast, along with the production design, propels a 230-year-old opera right to the heart of today’s important social issues.”

From "The Actors and the Drama", 2010 (Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr.)

“In all truly Classical great tragedy, that in the tradition of Bach's St. John and St. Matthew passions —as by Mozart's own, great Requiem, there is an obligatory expression of a union of the profoundly tragic history of mankind, but also the ironical expression of joyful realization of the true principle of triumph through the experience of tragedy. So, among the quality of audience which should have walked out of the theater when the performance of Don Giovanni had been completed, there should have been an induced sense of a hearty sense of triumphant laughter tragedy in the case which had just been performed: "Don't you see, that despite the silliness of the survivors of the developments in Mozart's Don Giovanni, Mozart himself is certain of the triumph of his personal mission in history, in the end.

Naturally, the typical folly of most audiences which I have observed as departing the experience of a great tragic work such as Mozart's Don Giovanni, is that they are silly pessimists who can not recognize the triumphant quality of the European civilization expressed in the lesson of that still living past history taught by Schiller's profoundly insightful, and exhaustively accurate and profound treatment of modern European history; that being what is expressed in the view of the experience of the hero Wallenstein of which Schiller's own view, presented to his audiences of his time, of the history of modern Europe is to be seen more clearly, through Schiller's own composition of that great trilogy, a trilogy in whose presence the audiences of Schiller's time, and still today, sit or stand in awe of the genius of that real life history itself, and of the profundity of Schiller's own genius, his insight into the larger process of history within which the reality of European history up to that moment in the theater when the trilogy of the historical Wallenstein should be intended to be performed for the audiences since Schiller's own time. We, today, live in precisely such kinds of times, and we must inform ourselves to view such matters in this fashion. Hail the pure genius of Mozart? Indeed! But understand his true passion, in laughing at the Satans of Vienna, then, now, today, once, again!”