Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Conductor: Massimo Zanetti
Director: Claus Guth
Don Giovanni: Christopher Maltman
Leporello: Luca Pisaroni
Donna Anna: Olga Peretyatko
Donna Elvira: Dorothea Röschmann
Zerlina: Narine Yeghiyan
Don Ottavio: Antonio Poli
Masetto: Grigory Shkarupa
Commendatore: Jan Martiník
My stay in Berlin was originally supposed to be five nights, but when I noticed that Don Giovanni would be performed at the Staatsoper im Schiller Theater on Thursday evening, I decided that I just had to be there. Like Tosca, Don Giovanni is one of my favorite war horses, and attending operas that I know well ─ and love dearly ─ abroad is only common sense to me since the surtitles are usually in a foreign language. My comprehension of German being rather feeble these days, in Berlin I needed operas I was familiar with to make the experience not only painless, but enjoyable too.
Another motivation was the presence of Italian bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni as Leporello, a role he wowed everybody in, including me, at the Met a couple of years ago, and Olga Peretyatko, the hot new Russian import I have been curious to check out. The rest of the cast was unknown to me, but just the perspective of hearing the glorious score in such a conducive environment was just too good to pass. And if I had to break the bank and spend a couple more days reveling in everything Berlin had to offer, so be it.
When your first sight of the stage is a Leporello looking like a modern-day drug addict surrounded by beer cans and stumbling around some mysterious woods at night, you suspect right away that you're in for an unusual Don Giovanni, and that's frankly good news. After all, what other operas offers such a perfect mix of comedy and drama particularly ripe for infinite adaptations?
If Leporello's low-life get-up was out of the ordinary even for a veteran of the part like Luca Pisaroni, he was clearly very comfortable with it. Unlike Don Giovanni’s frequently dazed and confused servant, the singer was always right on top everything all evening, whether he was mastering the musical score or the comic timing. Blessed with a remarkably wide-ranging voice and an unmistakable stage presence, he was an extremely fierce competitor to his master when it came to attracting and keeping the audience's attention.
And that was no easy feat as British baritone Christopher Maltman was a downright charismatic ladies' man, although he also betrayed some uncharacteristic restraint and humanity instead of the predictable overload of swagger and self-confidence. His assured singing had an appropriate hint of hauntingness to it, and his refined acting skills permitted him to present much more than a mere pleasure-seeker. Add to that a handsome physique, and you have a Don that is a pleasure to the eyes and to the ears.
The conquest that sets the drama in motion, Donna Anna, was powerfully sung and impersonated by Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko. Far from being the helpless rape victim she is often portrayed as though, she is first encountered happily cavorting with the Don himself, fully enjoying the consensual romp. And truth be told, the woman certainly had the attractive looks and the considerable vocal talent to easily hold any man under her spell.
On the other hand, German soprano Dorothea Röschmann made Donna Elvira a terribly conflicted spinster carrying an ever-present suitcase, always looking ready to finally go away forever, but always coming back with impeccable timing as the recurring thorn on the Don's side. Unlike her former lover though, the audience relished each and every one of her appearances, fully taking in her clear voice and expressive singing.
As definitely young and possibly innocent Zerlina, Armenian soprano Narine Yeghiyan was lovely in her pretty white dress. The virginal look, however, and the sweetness of her voice would soon be contradicted by her ready willingness to get on top of Don Giovanni first, and then Masetto. Kids grow up so fast these days!
As Don Ottavio, Italian tenor Antonio Poli was a deeply devoted suitor to Donna Anna and managed to turn this typically thankless role into a deceptively self-effacing nice guy that managed to steal the show every time he got to sing one of his arias with delicate nuance and strong command.
As Masetto, Russian bass Grigory Shkarupa was an endearing country boy, who got understandably upset at having his bride stolen away from him and let the world know about it.
Beside the superb singing, the production turned out to be a terrific surprise too. Using nothing more than a revolving set consisting of some dark woods, a few contemporary props, such as a bus shelter and a car, modern costumes, when they were on, and a lot of imagination, esteemed, if occasionally controversial, German director Claus Guth created a resolutely modern, cleverly inventive and immensely entertaining Don Giovanni.
From a hapless Don Ottavio desperately looking for a signal for his cell phone in the woods to a slow-motion rave party in Don Giovanni’s imaginary palace, not to mention some seriously sexy encounters between various participants, the production had plenty of chuckle-inducing humorous touches, but with always enough dark undertones to remind us that this was a tragedy too.
The story got some interesting interpretations as well, from Donna Anna’s more than willing participation in the opening hanky panky scene with the Don to his being shot by her father and slowly but surely dying over the next three hours, the bold plot twists were brilliantly handled so that it all somehow made sense, in no small part thanks to sharply drawn characters and truly inspired directions.
The score sounded as magnificent as ever, peppered as it is with carefully calibrated ensemble numbers and luminous arias. The orchestra played with elegance and high-spiritedness, allowing all the subtle details to beautifully come alive while keeping the performance moving at a brisk pace. Even the second act, which can sometimes drag on a bit, passed by in a flash, and in true German fashion, the curtain fell at 11 PM, exactly three and a half hours after the maestro gave the down beat, just as scheduled. One more reason to love Germany and the Germans.