At Salzburg, Don Giovanni Gets No Pleasure From Seducing
SALZBURG, Austria – “Chi son io, tu non saprai,” said director Romeo Castellucci in a recent interview in the lobby of the main theater of the Salzburg Festival. He smiled and motioned to an interpreter, who gave the translation: “You will never know who I am. “
The line is part of the main character’s entry line in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and announces the strangeness and ambiguity of the work, the way it oscillates between comedy and tragedy. Few directors seem better able to explore and honor its mysteries than Castellucci, who has emerged from the world of experimental theater to produce a continuing series of abstract and enigmatic opera productions.
His staging of “Don Giovanni” is therefore a much awaited encounter between the work and the director. Its premiere on July 26 will be broadcast live on Austrian TV and the August 7 performance will be shown online.
Also eagerly awaited is the first collaboration from scratch between Castellucci and conductor Teodor Currentzis, who have separately provided some of the Salzburg Festival’s most acclaimed events in recent years. Their “Giovanni” will be unusual – with collapsing churches, falling cars and pianos, a living rat and other extreme imagery. But Markus Hinterhäuser, artistic director of Salzburg, said it was not just inflammatory.
“There is nothing more boring than this,” said Hinterhäuser. “It’s epiphenomenal provocation: creating spaces for perception, resonance, vision. It is the provocation that is actually interesting.
The festival, which last year was one of the first European performing arts institutions to resume live performances, is now pioneering a return to the prepandemic scale. (“Giovanni,” which is part of a centennial season originally slated for last summer, is one of a group of postponed productions.) While many theaters are still blocking seats, Salzburg is selling – and, in the Most of the time, is selling at full capacity – its theaters at full capacity. Participants will need to be vaccinated, tested or recently recovered from coronavirus infection; masks were originally not required, but are now required after a member of the public tested positive following an outdoor performance of the play “Jedermann”. And the artists are regularly tested.
Castellucci’s concept revolves around the desire to re-enchant – to respect the mystery of – the myth of Don Juan (Don Giovanni in the Italian opera). “The dumbest and superficial thing you could do would be to turn him into some sort of Latin lover,” he said, instead proposing Giovanni as a principle of life itself, an element of chaos or disorder both dreaded and desired, violent and attractive.
“Even in the foundations of the myth,” added Castellucci, “he is someone who desires, who needs. And Mozart and Da Ponte” – Lorenzo Da Ponte, the librettist of the work – “only shows us its failures ”.
It is significant that in the play we never see this so-called great seducer succeeding. For Castellucci, therefore, Giovanni is representative of the search for the love of a childish ego – “the melancholy of the satyr”, which this director understands as beating close to the heart of Western culture.
Giovanni does not seek endless women but a woman, an incredibly ideal synthesis of incompatible forms of feminine perfection: mother, lover, prostitute. Desperately seeking wholeness and salvation, he ends up destroying others, treating women only as objects.
Far from the stereotypical figure of Casanova reveling in his conquests, this Don Giovanni is both executioner and victim, driven to violence by the force of his desires and by his fear of the honest encounter with the other that all demands. love relationship.
“I think he suffered a childhood trauma,” Davide Luciano, the Italian baritone who plays Giovanni, said in an interview. “I always thought that was the real character; it’s deeper and darker than just taking advantage of women. Casanova appreciates; Giovanni does not and cannot.
In the famous “catalog tune” of the first act, Giovanni’s servant, Leporello, tells the abandoned (but still in love) nobleman Donna Elvira of her master’s many lovers – 1,003 in Spain alone. Often played for comedy, this sequence is for Castellucci something much more serious.
“It’s a horrible interaction,” he said, “in which humans are just numbers.” In response, Castellucci will fill the stage throughout the opera with 150 women who are neither professional actresses nor dancers. Trained in his precise sign language by choreographer Cindy van Acker, they will begin to trigger Giovanni’s downfall.
“The ‘mille tre’ will be invested with a literal substance,” said Castellucci, “to overturn the philosophy of the catalog by occupying all the available space, with these women who have a body, an age, a biography, a name , a story – who are real people.
In the first act, Giovanni will brutalize and dominate these women. As the second act progresses, they will begin to take control, ultimately leading it to hell.
Mozart, born here in 1756, is Salzburg’s favorite son, and in 1922, “Don Giovanni” was the festival’s first opera production – conducted by the great composer Richard Strauss, with the Vienna Philharmonic, which is still the house orchestra, in the pit. This year, for the first time, the opera will be performed here by an ensemble other than the Philharmonie: Currentzis conducts his devoted MusicAeterna, which was heard in Salzburg in Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito” and made a name for himself with a cycle of recordings of the three Mozart-Da Ponte operas.
“I have a very certain theory about the sound of ‘Don Giovanni”, “Currentzis said in an interview after a rehearsal,” rooted in the church music of Salzburg “.
“It is a polystylistic opera,” he added, referring to the combination of tropes of the score of the opera severe seria and the jovial opera buffa, added to orchestrations reminiscent of religious music. “I wouldn’t say it’s a foreshadowing of romanticism; it’s already romantic. On the contrary, it goes directly to contemporary music, directly to Alban Berg.
For Currentzis, the female characters in the work reflect different styles of singers: Donna Anna, for example, seems to come from an opera seria and Zerlina, a peasant woman, from an opera bouffe. In Don Giovanni’s sexual and emotional scheme, Elvira represents the mother; Anna, the lover; and Zerlina, the prostitute.
These musical and psychological relationships, Currentzis believes, can only be evidenced by historically informed performances. He asks musicians to tune their A to 430 Hz, a quarter of a tone lower than the standard pitch of contemporary orchestras.
“It’s obviously better,” Currentzis said. “Mozart composed music at 430 Hz; that was the tone of the time. When he did the tone plan, he knew exactly what he wanted to give the shine and the darkness.
“If you transpose everything a quarter of a tone up,” he added, “anything spectral is completely different.”
The precision of his work with intonation extends to Currentzis’ expectations of singers and their tone. “It’s very simple,” he says. “You have a very tight polyphonic structure, and if everything isn’t precise, everything falls apart. We have a type of romantic song that came in with the 20th century, and then singers brought that romantic approach to Mozart’s operas and polyphonic music. When the voices have less vibrato, it helps me to do the architecture.
In his recordings, the difference between vocal output and norm – even more dramatic than what is normally heard in historically informed performances – is immediately audible: harder consonants; very soft and often almost whispered song; lots of straight sounds and no vibrato. Currentzis insists that even in the Grosses Festspielhaus, which can accommodate over 2,100 seats, all of this will be audible.
“You don’t need to make the singer sing louder,” he said. “The orchestra can also play more quietly.”
The singers seem elated rather than upset by the requests. “It’s the best thing in the world,” said tenor Michael Spyres, who plays Don Ottavio. “He has to be alive, and he has to be flexible. Mozart is the furthest thing from stiffness. The lower tone, he added, helps singers access more vocal colors; Luciano, the Giovanni, said he could pronounce the words better with this chord.
“Normally I work with great conductors,” Luciano said, “but they don’t always know the technique of singing. Teodor can sing.
He added that he had been “a little scared” to work with Currentzis and Castellucci, who both have a well-deserved reputation for thoroughness. But Luciano said that the atmosphere was “very serene” and that Castellucci “never asks for strange or uncomfortable positions for the singers. He is always at our service for the vocals, for the music.
At the end of the interview, Castellucci discussed the opera finale: a sextet of the plot survivors, celebrating the downfall of the central anti-hero. “We hear how they are trying to rebuild society without Don Giovanni,” he said. “But we feel in this joyful music a terrible nostalgia for this person, because of the principle of life that he represented. Heidegger said that the artist is a problematiser, someone who creates problems. This is, I think, a wonderful definition of the whole process.
Currentzis felt the same, despite presenting the main character in all his tortured obscurity. “The audience will criticize him during the intermission,” he said. “But in the room, they want to be him. Don Giovanni does what they want. He has the courage to do it. “
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