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Mozart's Don Giovanni Is Bisexual Manager in Paris (Update1)
(The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Bloomberg.)
By Jorg von Uthmann
Feb. 2 (Bloomberg) -- If the Theater of the Absurd didn't exist already, Michael Haneke would have invented it with his production of Mozart's ``Don Giovanni'' for the Paris Opera.
The 63-year-old film maker, born in Munich but Austrian, is one of the few internationally acclaimed German-language directors though his best-known movies tend to be co- productions in other languages. His ``The Piano Teacher'' (2000) and ``Cache,'' or ``Hidden,'' (2005) won prizes at the Cannes Film Festival.
Haneke's films have a well-deserved reputation for violence and twisted sex, which is probably why Gerard Mortier, the director of the Paris opera, hired him. ``Don Giovanni'' (1787) is Haneke's first opera production.
There is, of course, plenty of violence and twisted sex in Mozart's work, and Haneke delivers what was expected from him. The problem lies elsewhere.
When the curtain goes up, you grasp right away that the stunning decor (Christoph Kanter) is the only one you are going to get. Haneke has dealt with the key challenge of the opera -- the many scene changes -- by sweeping it away. Everything happens in the hallway of an office tower.
The Commendatore (Robert Lloyd), Haneke suggests in the program, is the head of a corporation. Anna (Christine Schafer) is a junior director, Giovanni (Peter Mattei) a young manager, Leporello (Luca Pisaroni) his assistant and so on. Masetto and Zerlina belong to the cleaning staff.
This Giovanni lusts not only after the ladies, he's also after his assistant. He kisses Leporello frequently and grabs his crotch. Didn't we know there was something fishy about the compulsive skirt-chaser?
So, how does Haneke explain that Zerlina and Masetto are holding their engagement celebration in a corridor? Why doesn't Anna recognize the man she just had sex with in her office? And how can Don Giovanni invite the statue if the Commendatore hasn't been buried yet, because everything, as the director insists, is happening in the same night?
Well, says the program, the celebration is just an informal hoedown for a bored nightshift staff. Anna, we are told, does recognize her suitor yet is too ashamed to admit it. The ``statua gentilissima'' is absent without explanation, and also has been deleted from the surtitles.
The tortuous attempt to make the old story ``relevant'' for a modern audience would be easier to accept if the result were not so dull. The director seems to have overlooked the second part of the title of the libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte -- ``dramma giocoso.'' There is nothing joking about his heavy-handed updating.
Nor is the musical side so lively. After an aggressive overture, Sylvain Cambreling accompanies the singers in a gray, businesslike fashion.
Mattei and Pisaroni are by far the best of the lot. Both have a compelling stage presence and vocal charisma. Ottavio (Shawn Mathey) is technically accomplished though stiff.
The ladies are weaker. Schafer sounds tired, although she manages a decent ``Or sai chi l'onore.'' Elvira (Mireille Delunsch) is on the shrill side and Zerlina (Aleksandra Zamojska) falls short on charm.
``Don Giovanni'' runs through Feb. 25 at the Palais Garnier in Paris.
To contact the reporter on this story:
Jorg von Uthmann at email@example.com.
Last Updated: February 2, 2006 06:49 EST
Il dissoluto punito ossia Il Don Giovanni
Wolfgang Amadé Mozart (1756-1791)