Monday, May 4, 2015

BLO's Version of Mozart's Don Giovanni

By Magda Romanska, Ph.D., Boston Lyric Opera Dramaturg

During preparations for the Prague premiere of Don Giovanni in October of 1787, Mozart was, as ever, heavily involved with all aspects of the production, from the music and the staging to writing the libretto. In fact, he continued writing and rewriting until the opening and even after. The second production, in Vienna, which opened in May of 1788, included many changes in the libretto and score. First, Mozart added two new arias; second, but more importantly, he made a number of cuts in the Finale, eliminating repetitive lines by the Commendatore and Don Giovanni and cutting the final epilogue, in which the couples discuss their post- Don Giovanni plans for the future. Thus, the Viennese version ended with the grand scene of condemnation—Don Giovanni disappearing into the pit of fire, carried away by demons. Mozart believed such an ending was more powerful because it culminated with the terrifying vision of Hell and condemnation, leaving the audience in a state of awe and horror. As Don Giovanni’s story concluded, there was no need to bring back the couples for the epilogue.

In BLO’s version, we are honoring Mozart’s revisions of the opera by cutting the final epilogue and tightening the libretto for more intense dramatic effect. Thanks to these cuts, we are able to execute the classic (and neo-classical) vision of the opera’s dramatic structure, ascribing to the Greek rule of the three unities: time, space, and action. Our version of the opera takes place within 24 hours, in Don Giovanni’s home, following all of the characters in one continuous swoop, part cinéma verité and part ensemble piece. Our Don Giovanni is a man of means, and his house parties, as claustrophobic as they can get, serve as a way for high society to interact, entertain, and destroy each other. With his wealth and charisma, the Don wields the power of the house master, moving his guests, both men and women, like chess pieces on the board. This fishbowl setting emphasizes the divide between the public world of social and moral rules that govern men and women’s sexuality and the private world of bedrooms, where official boundaries are tested and transgressed. Dramatically, the opera follows Thomas Hobbes’ vision of the boudoir as a battlefield, with man (the rake, the libertine) pursuing woman (the fortress of virtue and temptation) until she’s conquered.

By tightening the libretto (as Mozart intended with his Vienna revisions) and staging the opera within the neo-classical model of the three unities (as was customary in Mozart’s Age of Enlightenment), we are able to solve a number of structural problems, while heightening the dramatic tensions and emotional impact of the opera. And by focusing on the ensemble, we create a world of power and sexuality that is as alluring and seductive as it is dangerous and destructive.

Kevin Burdette (left) as Leporello and Duncan Rock as the Don in the BLO production.
Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

1 comment:

  1. I wished the preview of the opera emphasized the "new production" part so I would have adjusted my expectation before the show. What's the deal of three people wearing 21 century street clothes mingle with people in period costume? What's the deal with one wearing sunglasses and wrist watch on stage? I don't like gimmick, I go to Don Giovanni for good music (which Mozart already gave us) and beautiful voices. I was disappointed. I subscribed to the 2015-16 season. I hope I'll have some chance to truly enjoy a couple of good operas in the next year for the same reason that they lasted throughout history. Innovation is great, but please no gimmicks.

    By the way, what's the deal with actors/actresses crawling on stage? Have seen them from Mezz or balcony? It's not very sightly, to say the least.