Tue, Dec 18, 2012 - Page 12 News List

Classical DVD reviews

Mozart’s Don Giovanni (Juan), a film by Kasper Holten

By Bradley Winterton  /  Contributing reporter

The finale of Act One becomes a rave, with references to the DJ, manhattans, Masetto “losing it big-time” and it being “an awesome night.” Juan and Leporello escape the inexplicably angry clubbers by setting the place on fire.

Major Cuts

From then on the cuts become major. All the business of Leporello being disguised as Giovanni is excised, and it’s a surprise to find that Elvira (Elizabeth Futral) has her aria “Mi tradi” retained, albeit in severely truncated form, to accompany images of her drowning herself in the Danube. (She’s supposed to appear again in the last scene, but this is conveniently forgotten.)

The graveyard scene becomes a rainy nighttime street, while much of the finale takes place in an underground parking lot. There’s no final dinner, only the theft of some food from a convenience store and the murder of the shop assistant. Juan meets an appropriately hellish death when his crashed car bursts into flames.

By this time huge amounts of music have been lost. Even more important, the music that’s retained lacks its usual power. The catalogue aria misses Mozart’s zest, as if the laptop is enough to establish its significance, and the same can be said for many other items. It’s as if the whole team has become so intoxicated by the novel visuals that the need to engage the audience’s emotions with the music has been forgotten.

Gimmicky

This isn’t to say that the soloists don’t have their strengths. But Christopher Maltman as Giovanni/Juan lacks charisma, and is instead simply routinely moody. Mozart put enormous energy and liveliness into this opera, but Kasper Holten has chosen to ignore this and replace it by gimmicks, gadgets and a not always very convincing contemporary glamour.

Holten was the director of Wagner’s Ring operas in Copenhagen [reviewed May 2, 2010]. That was a cycle which was outstanding musically and vocally, and just avoided being torpedoed by the eccentricities Holten frequently saw fit to introduce. This time, however, he appears to have allowed himself free rein, with nothing in the way of musical excellence to redress the balance.

The essential point is that Mozart’s music for Don Giovanni is sublime, but sublimity is something this film never even approaches. The result is a production that has very little to recommend it. Holten says he thinks Mozart would have enjoyed it. But Mozart, though doubtless fun-loving on occasion, was one of the greatest musical geniuses ever to have lived, and he put his all into this opera. This Holten version is a sad, trivial travesty, and I’m absolutely certain Mozart would have detested it.

Holten has recently been appointed director of opera at London’s Covent Garden. Opera-lovers in the city must be lying awake at night dreading what other facile and narcissistic productions are now in store.

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