Our correspondent in Germany, Opernphrenologe, was recently in Munich. What follows is a lightly edited review of the new Don Giovanni production that recently opened at Bayerische Staatsoper.
* Notes *
The premiere of Don Giovanni, directed by Stephan Kimmig, in München started out badly enough. The curtain opened to reveal a naked old man with saggy boobs, shivering. From that point on, the production continued to get steadily worse. Behind him were a bunch of shipping containers that moved around and opened throughout the opera. One of the worst scenes was the wedding party, which was a rave with two 3-foot high penguin statues that people danced with. The masks were snorkeling masks, and there were half-naked lesbian snow bunnies humping each other here and there. Even worse was the send-Giovanni-to-Hell scene. Heaven was a shipping container, this time filled with people dressed like priests and army soldiers. Giovanni was cooking dinner in his modern kitchen (located in a shipping container that also contained around 20 mannequins), and he was sent to Hell by shaking hands with a chain of hand-holding army dudes and priests. When they let go, Giovanni fell to the ground next to his modern food processor. Profound. There was also a film screen that added absolutely nothing to the production, except to perhaps make it worse, as if it needed help in that department. At the end, everyone danced around, and old-naked-man came out again with his old-man-boobs to blow on some pinwheels.
Mariusz Kwiecien (Don Giovanni) did not sing as well as I remember him singing before. He sounded like he was mumbling and there was not much dynamic range in his voice. Perhaps he had a cold? Then again, he was definitely slimy, and an especially bad moment was when he pretended to give a doll a horseback ride on his knee. Maija Kovalevska (Donna Elvira) was a hippy backpacker chick in this particular production. Her voice was sweet and lovely, and she was incredibly fit. She must work out a lot. My favorite singer was Pavol Breslik (Don Ottavio), and I guess others agreed since he received loud applause at the end. His interpretation of the music was wonderful, with lots of dynamics and a sugary tone. However, even he could not make up for the flat, off-tune, and downright ugly singing of Ellie Dehn (Donna Anna). Her famous aria was like nails on a chalkboard. Fortunately for her, most people do not have perfect pitch and she received lukewarm applause at the end (with only a few buh's). The orchestra was also lightly buh'd. It is true that they were a bit sloppy, but they were not bad. They were like a player piano that had played the same tune one too many times. Some of the horn section looked angry when they were buh'd, which I suppose is understandable. After all, it is the conductor's (in this case, Kent Nagano's) job to interpret the music and not allow them to be sloppy.
The producers were heartily buh'd at the end. Some people responded to the buh'ing with loud applause, as if they somehow "got" the profundity of the production while the buh'ers did not. Or perhaps they just found the old-man-boobs incredibly sexy. I might guess the latter.
* Tattling *
We did not have tickets for this production, since it sold out and I tried to buy tickets too late. Instead, we bought tickets from vicious female ticket scalpers who fought amongst themselves to unload their overpriced tickets on us. It was fearsome to watch them in action, and we both needed to tipple afterwards. My companion was an Opera Virgin, and we acquired her ticket from the only nice scalper in the bunch. I suspect that my companion will never willingly attend opera again -- the production was that bad. The audience was unusually engaged compared to the average performance (but perhaps not for a premiere). They seemed extremely pleased with themselves during the hearty buh'ing at the end.