Recycling Bordeaux’s Hateful Don Giovanni

FranceFrance W.A.Mozart, Don Giovanni: Soloists, Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine, Choeur de l’Opera National de Bordeaux, Mikhail Tatarnikov (conductor), Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux, 22.6.2012 (JMI)

Production Opera National de Bordeaux in coproduction with Opera de Lorraine and Théâtre de Caen

Direction: Laurent Laffargue (original), Clovis Bonnaud (revival)
Sets: Philippe Casaban and Eric Charbeau
Costumes: Hervé Poeydomenge
Lighting: Patrice Trottier


Don Giovanni: Teddy Tahu-Rhodes
Leporello: Kostas Smoriginas
Donna Anna: Jacquelyn Wagner
Donna Elvira: Mireille Delunsch
Don Ottavio: Ben Johnson
Zerlina: Khatouna Gadelia
Masetto: Sebastien Parotte
Comendatore: Eric Martin-Bonnet

Picture courtesy Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux, © Guillaume Bonnaud

Bordeaux finishes its opera season with two works by Mozart, performed on alternate days: Don Giovanni and Le Nozze di Figaro, two of the three operas that make up the Mozart-Da Ponte trilogy… which left one wanting the missing third, Così.

Laurent Laffargue’s production for Don Giovanni was premiered in Bordeaux in September of 2002. The sets are very simple: several white panels that move and leave space for the different scenes. Costumes are in white and black to match the sets, and lighting is almost nonexistent because the whole opera takes place at daylight, whether day or night, indoors, outdoors, or cemetery. It was more original then than now, insightful and imperfect even then. The action takes place in the 30s, features a hateful Don Giovanni: a violent junkie and macho. The first scene—Don Giovanni gets dressed after making love to Donna Anna, who is still in bed with him—is (still) great. The props in different scenes—seesaws, spinners, and toy horses—are well suited to the immature character of the protagonist.

available at Amazon
W.A.Mozart, Don Giovanni,
B.d.Billy / WPh
C.Maltman, A.Dasch, M.Polenzani, D.Roschmann et al.
Director Claus Guth
EuroArts Blu-ray & DVD

Leporello decides to stay with Don Giovanni in exchange for cocaine, not four doubloons. And the violence that Giovanni uses on Donna Elvira in the last scene serves well in defining the personality of Il dissoluto punito – the (punished) rake of which the complete title of Mozart’s opera speaks. The problem is that not everything works fine, with plenty seeming nonsense present. The Cemetery and the statue of the Comendatore disappear, which makes this whole (absurd) scene more absurd… the Comendatore always sings offstage and with amplified voice (both at the cemetery and dinner). For the end of act one, Don Giovanni and Leporello are dressed as if they were going to Madrid’s gay pride parade. Last but not least Don Giovanni shakes hands at the end not with the Comendatore, but with a girl in the nude. Then there’s Don Giovanni’s death, who  commits suicide with a bullet to his head. The final sextet is eliminated (as it arguably was at its Vienna premiere), which can’t disagree with because I’ve always found this sort of concertante ensemble-moralizing anticlimactic after the Don’s death.

Mikhail Tatarnikov, a very busy conductor at the Mariinsky, led the orchestra. He moved within the parameters of correction and beat-keeping, which is usually not enough to give life to this opera. I found his reading rather flat in the first part of the opera, but it gained life in the second half without gaining luster.

Don Giovanni was played by New Zealander Teddy Tahu-Rhodes. His vocal instrument has little appeal, is rather throaty and poorly projected, and his diction unintelligible, but he cuts an excellent figure on stage and moves with ease. Kostas Smoriginas’ Leporello had similar vocal characteristics and was therefore of little interest, also: An unattractive voice badly projected – with little contrast between the two of them..

American soprano Jacquelyn Wagner has an interesting voice and sings with gusto. The most controversial point of her performance is the suitability of her voice to the character of Donna Anna. It didn’t quite suit my taste, because her voice is more responsive to the characteristics of a Zerlina than a Donna Anna. In small theaters, such as Bordeaux, this is relatively unimportant, but not entirely. Mireille Delunsch has become a familiar face in Bordeaux. I had many opportunities to see and hear this soprano in the most varied characters and I have always found her a very interesting artist, although contentious vocally. Particularly impressive was her interpretation of the Governess in The Turn of the Screw a few years ago. Today the state of her voice is worrying. The voice has lost its freshness and all her high notes are not very pleasant. English tenor Ben Johnson was a honey-voiced Don Ottavio of a reduced size, befitting the importance of his figure on stage. Although his voice is not outstanding, his tastefully sung arias offered the best moments of the night. Gadelia Khatouna was no more than a serviceable Zerlina and Sebastien Parotte a well suited, rough Masetto.

José Mª Irurzun