Opera North staged Don Giovanni on Saturdy night in Nottingham, and we were there. It was a blast. The choreography, the set , the characterisation and the costume brought Mozart in all his libertine music hall ribald self to the fore. Everything I think I know about Mozart is confirmed in this production. The sense of throwing everything at life, devil may care, and the subsequent angst and despair about mortality. Admittedly I am not a music buff, nor an opera goer, so I am giving you a personal account of my own experience. Others may have dismissed it, who knows? What I am saying is that the treatment of Mozarts opera made me laugh, think, and enjoy, so what’s not to like?
Some of the performance went small, and was played out using puppets inside a frame , much like Punch and Judy, and it worked. It made me laugh. Always good. The costumes combined all sorts of influences from victorian mourning ( Donna Anna) to teddy boy , to Edwardian dandy. A combination that could confuse but didn’t. It created atmosphere, pace and a sense of continuity of the human condition.
Don Giovanni is traditionally a seducer; I got the impression he was a sociopath, a serial rapist and a killer to boot, so how this ends up making me laugh is a tribute to Mozarts understanding of the human condition. Don Giovanni cares not a fig about anyone, or anything. He cares about the absurdity of life. He plays pranks. He is cruel in his dealings with every one he comes across and yet, – he is admired, even loved. There is something in the human psyche that cannot condone his behaviour, but that admires his style. Elvira, abominably used and abandoned simultaneously berates him and loves him. Donna Anna somehow wants to create space between herself and her finace after having been raped and deprived of a father, as though she has experienced something she needs to get over, some sort of compulsion of attraction to her abuser. His servant continuously tells him he is leaving, but doesn’t, and he manages to remove the bride to be from her wedding day in an attempt to test his powers of attraction.
There is an interplay between classes that Mozart clearly wants his audience to question, the leisured aristocratic class of which Don Giovanni belongs , has all the earthly possession of good food, good drink, servants it desires. The peasant class are lowly, and more basic in their idea of how to live. The music reflects the two different realities.
When Don Giovanni is unrepentant about his crimes, it is not retribution on earth that he receives, but the final recognition that ones mortality is not in ones own control. He has constantly declaimed that he will use his deathbed to repent of his atrocities, but when he is confronted by the spirit of the dead father of Donna Anna, there is no time for absolution and he is dragged down into Hell. A timely reminder to all mortals then, that the way you live is what is important, and cannot be bargained against at deaths invitation. Mozart had his own demons, and he demonstrates the state of all men and women who live, the necessity to understand their connection in the world, that their actions have human consequences, and that we all have to reconcile what we want, with how to live well. Don Giovanni clearly had no compunction about the damage he caused , because he did not feel it. One of the important aspects of being human is the ability to understand that gratifying our selves may have consequences on others, and therefore may have to be deferred or impulses controlled. It might not make good opera, but then I don’t want to live with Don Giovanni. Mozart has thrilled audiences for generations with this musical narrative, bringing comedy and tragedy together to entertain and to reflect our own selves.