Una donna a quindici anni
Sans Elephants

Nulla mai temer mi fa.

BsogiovanniThe Bayeriche Staatsoper's production of Don Giovanni had excellent singers but a disappointing staging. Thus far, all the productions of Mozart operas there have been fairly ugly visually, although the production teams have all been different.

Ivor Bolton's conducting was not impressive, the orchestra was not exactly together during the overture, and the singers and the orchestra seemed off from each other from time to time. Perhaps there was no souffleur? I did not see one, but the stage was raked, so maybe the singers were to follow the conductor. During Act I, Scene 20, when Don Giovanni has a ball in order to seduce Zerlina, there were masked musicians onstage in three separate groups. This produced some unintentional dissonance, more a fault of the staging than the conductor.

Nicholas Hytner's staging and Bob Crowley's sets were somewhat baffling. The stage was raked, not steeply, with walls left and right, which had various compartments that would open to be windows or chambers. There were two scrims, one normal and one near the middle which was in two pieces cut diagonally that came together in the middle. These scrims, which I suppose are not technically scrims since they weren't translucent (they were opaque red) served to make the scene changes flawless. The whole stage was red, perhaps the scrims were like valves, and it was meant to be some abstruse symbol of the human heart. This would not explain the huge golden statues of hands, one appearing in Act I Scene 16 when Zerlina sings "Batti, batti, o bel Masetto" and the other in the aforementioned ball scene. We never return to this image in Act II, rendering whatever impact it was to have rather toothless.

The other major motif was the rood. Four little spirits all in white held crosses and would appear here and there, they were particularly disorienting when they surrounded the Commendatore's body.

What was most annoying was the finale, they had Don Giovanni gone entirely mad, hair a mess and barefoot, stumbling and drunk, eating his dinner with his hands on the floor. If he is out of his mind, how is his punishment just? Also, having him costumed so almost made him look Christ-like, hair down, in a plain white shirt, and wrapped in a red blanket. This image, though beautiful, makes no sense.

I must say though, they did a wonderful job with the statue of the Commendatore, the costume was very good and the scene in the graveyard was marvelous. The Commendatore's grave was his likeness on a horse, and this was surprisingly convincing.

Act II, Scene 15, when the statue comes to dinner was fairly effective. The Commendatore on foot was followed by the Grim Reaper astride a white horse. This could have easily been kitsch, but it worked very well.

The costumes, also by Bob Crowley, were all in strong colors, mostly black and red, except for statues and spirits. They were typical Rococo, though the principal sopranos all had flame-shaped, zigzagged borders in contrasting fabric at their hems. Masetto's dark green and black costume was particularly reminiscent of Frans Hals.

As for the singing, it was exceptional. Sopranos Brigitt Hahn and Aga Mikolaj were fine as Donnas Anna and Elvira, respectively. They both had passionate, fiery voices, and I have never heard two sopranos that sounded better together. Julia Rempe was much better as Zerlina than as Blonde in Entführung. Her voice is not full, it has something of an ugly edge, but she sang much better in this, one could actually hear her most of the time, and her intonation was better, perhaps since she didn't have to get that high A all the time as Zerlina. Her voice was definitely distinct from the other two sopranos, which isn't a bad thing.

Robert Saccà is a solid tenor, his voice was good for Don Ottavio, as it was for Belmonte in Entführung. Bass Maurizio Muraro has a strong voice, good diction, and acting ability to boot. Bass Taras Konoshchenko did not strike me one way or another, he could project better than Rempe. Bass Franz-Josef Selig, on the other hand, was distinctively good as the Commendatore, suitably stately and terrifying.

Bo Skovhus was incredible in the title role. Not only does he cut a dashing figure as the unrepentant rake, his voice is simply charming, light, and very suitable for the part. I remember him being similarly good as Count Almaviva in Le Nozze at SFO in 1997.

On a completely personal note, and I commend the reader for getting this far, I left my shawl in the opera house, couldn't find it and was told to wait at the stage entrance for someone to bring it down. This is where all the die-hard opera coots are, waiting for the performers to come out. It was utterly bizarre to see the singers offstage in street clothes, shaking people's hands and autographing programs. I was too bashful to say anything, I just stood there wide-eyed and blushing, no doubt.

Also, the Balkon (balcony) part of the audience appears to be quieter than the the Ränge (the 3 tiers above the balcony level) or the Parkett (floor).