Just counting the ones seen live, I have seen about a dozen professional productions of Don Giovanni, several of them more than once and as there are often noticeable changes between runs, I'm almost tempted to say the total's in the twenties.
Some have been utterly wonderful and most have been at least 'good', but there's been a bad one (the 'last but one' ENO: direction and design were both crap and because of the quality of the singing, you couldn't even shut your eyes and just listen) and an 'it was going ok until WTF' one (Opera North's I posted about where suddenly the mob after the Don started behaving like dogs and it ended with everyone pretending to be a puppet).
But until yesterday, there's never been one where I have been going WTF all the way though.
It's the current Komische Oper production. It starts with the chorus breaking lots of crockery on stage. Don't ask me why. (I'll be using this phrase a lot, so I'll use DAMW from now on!) It then skips the overture - DAMW - and goes straight into Leporello's opening number about having to hang around while the Don is off seducing women. Then the Don appears. He's got long blond hair rather than green, but his costume and makeup design is clearly completely 'inspired' by the Joker from the 1960s Batman. DAMW. Most of the rest of the cast have comic book-style designs too... just not all from the same artist. DAMW.
So on comes the latest victim, Donna Anna, followed by her father, the Commendatore. He's blind - DAMW - but waving a sword about. The Don is having great difficulty getting his sword out, so Leporello uses a sword that's around - DAMW - and lets the father hit it. Then the father impales himself with his own sword. DAMW. Or how, given how long it is. Somehow the Don falls over - DAMW - and the Commendatore falls dead on top of him.
After a bit, the live pair go off, and on comes Don Ottavio, the boyfriend of Donna Anna. She's got bright orange-red hair and - gosh - he's got a suit the same colour. His tie is the same light blue colour as her dress! This is probably the first point at which I went ah ha, I get it!
After they've sung about wanting revenge, the orchestra remember that they haven't done the overture yet, so they play that. It's as if the whole opening is a 'pre-title' sequence of a film. That's almost an interesting idea, but - DAMW - the tempo is increased at the end. Perhaps it's because the chorus who have appeared, look like they've all got some bad nervous tick (DAMW, but they keep this throughout), hidden the Commendatore exiting the stage, then lifted off the black sheet on the floor with all the broken china, have shuffled off - with great pretend difficulty.
So, on with the action. The seduced and abandoned Donna Elvira turns up, in a costume making her look like a big yellow screw - I wonder if that's the intention! - then after she's stormed off, the peasants Masetto and Zerlina arrive. They're in more normal costumes than anyone else, including the chorus that's supposed to be their wedding party.
From now on, the recitative - the dialogue that's not properly sung with a full orchestra accompaniment but 'lightly' sung to a solo harpsichord - between the Don and Leporello is done at horse-racing commentator pace. DAMW. I'm a very quick reader, and I could barely keep up with the display of the English translation. (Oh, they were using a German translation rather than the original Italian.)
What else? Oh, the new floor is a lace design and there are some flats and hanging lace to make up the set. For some reason - DAMW - these wobble up and down or across the stage at random points, usually in the middle of a song.
Despite the, erm, 'unique' costumes of most of the characters, obviously neither Leporello or the Don recognise the three when they turn up for the party at the end of act one. One of the things any director has to work out how the Don and Leporello gets away from that. It had not previously occurred to me (or anyone else's I've seen) that obviously the Don just stands there and lets the curtain fall behind him...
... or to have act two start with the rest of the cast with WTF faces at this disappearance and not noticing that Leporello is just behind them. The normal recitative between Leporello and the Don is skipped entirely and they go straight into their number.
By this point, when the Don divides the mob into two ('half of you go that way' - points stage right - 'the rest of you go this' - points stage left) only for all of them to go off on one side seems quite normal.
I'm sure I am forgetting more, but as it builds to the climax, the Commendatore staggers on stage like a zombie, complete with a hand dropping off, and turns into a statue - DAMW - he can see. DAMW.
In the confrontation between him and the Don, they hold hands for most of it. Then they let go, touch again and the Don sings in surprise about how cold the Commendatore's hand is. Erm, you've been holding it for the past few minutes and you've only just noticed?! He also doesn't say 'I never touched you and we never even crossed swords - you impaled yourself before I could get mine out!'
The Don's descent into Hell is well done, even if I am not sure why a light bulb descends with him, just above his hand.
Then - DAMW - that's it and it's final curtain time. I knew from reading a review they were going to lose the final sextet where the survivors sing about the moral of the story. The most recent Royal Opera House production did that and I really do not understand why: it's one of the most beautiful bits of music ever - when I saw their previous production at the ROH itself, it was that point that I knew paying HOW MUCH?!? was completely justified. But even they kept the previous bit where the survivors sing about what they're going to do next...
Given all that, you may be surprised to know that overall it's actually quite good. I could lose half of the cast's clowning, but they can all sing. I'm seeing it as proof of how good the original material is that you can do all this to it and it still being watchable. Starting out at the WTF level definitely helps, and there were a couple of good ideas, but I'd still rather see any other production apart from the two mentioned earlier though.
This entry was originally posted at http://lovingboth.dreamwidth.org/545956.html, because despite having a permanent account, I have had enough of LJ's current owners trying to be evil. Please comment there using OpenID - have and if you have an LJ account, you can use it for your OpenID account. Or just join Dreamwidth! It only took a couple of minutes to copy all my entries here to there.