Schwab’s Don Giovanni Reappears on the Berlin Stage, Marred by Some Fundamental Problems

GermanyGermany Mozart: Don Giovanni: Deutsche Oper Berlin Orchestra and Chorus, Daniel Cohen (conductor), Deutsche Oper Berlin, 12.11.2015. (JMI)

Don Giovanni (c) Bettina Stöss

Mozart, Don Giovanni


Direction: Roland Schwab
Sets: Piero Vinciguerra
Costumes: Renée Listerdal


Don Giovanni: Davide Luciano
Leporello: Seth Carico
Donna Anna: Aurelia Florian
Donna Elvira: Jana Kurucová
Don Ottavio: Matthew Newlin
Zerlina: Alexandra Hutton
Comendator: Tobias Kehrer
Masetto: Andrew Harris

This is the well-known staging by Roland Schwab which premiered here in 2010 and was shown at the Peralada Festival three years ago. It’s one of those productions that leaves me totally perplexed  ̶  it doesn’t pay attention to libretto or score – but the audience seems to love it.

Schwab presents Don Giovanni as the boss of a violent urban gang, reminiscent to some extent of A Clockwork Orange. This makes the character of Seville’s seducer lose all his charm and removes any credibility from his conquests. His companions (some 20 or more) are in constant movement on stage which disturbs the music on more than one occasion. This might all be more or less acceptable if not for the fact that Schwab decided to change the opera genre from Drama Giocoso to Opera Buffa, with all sorts of nonsense on stage to provoke an easy laugh.

I don’t understand why at the end of Act I a topless woman with a prosthetic leg walks above the orchestra pit. I can’t grasp either the meaning of an individual pedaling crazily on a stationary bicycle in that same scene. And I found the parody of the Last Supper, taken from the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci, distasteful. To all this should be added the cuts made to recitatives, and the elimination of the second aria by Don Ottavio and of the final moral. Perhaps this last cut does make sense since the production doesn’t allow for any kind of morals. 

The musical direction was entrusted to Daniel Cohen, until recently assistant to Gustavo Dudamel in Los Angeles and currently resident conductor in Berlin. It must be rather difficult to conduct Don Giovanni given all that is happening on stage here, but my impression was positive overall. The conducting was somewhat routine in the first act and significantly better in the latter part of the opera. Mr. Cohen’s work leads me to believe that he may not totally agree with Mr.Schwab’s vision. 

In this production the artists have more demands on them as actors than singers, particularly in the case of Don Giovanni and Leporello. Young Italian baritone Davide Luciano, with the vocal qualities of a lyrical baritone, gave life to this strange Don Giovanni. The problem is that this role requires more than a voice, and Mr. Luciano is not there yet. The recitatives are an essential part of the character, not to mention his ariosos, but Mr. Luciano did not convince me, particularly in “Deh, vieni alla finestra.

The case of Seth Carico is more peculiar: his Leporello has to do everything and becomes the protagonist of the opera. Vocally, his timbre did not differ much from Don Giovanni’s, and I was not particularly convinced with his singing. But as an actor, Mr. Carico was superb. 

Soprano Aurelia Florian was Donna Anna with a voice wider than usual in the character, which seemed to me perfectly adequate. She did well despite a certain monotony, and she had considerable trouble in the agilities of “Non mi dir.”

Donna Elvira was Slovak mezzo soprano Jana Kurocová, who was satisfactory on stage but far from convincing in vocal terms. Her voice is not particularly attractive and rather bitter at the top, and her delivery of “Mi Tradi” did not work.

The best singing of the evening came from American tenor Matthew Newlin as Don Ottavio, excellent in his aria, “Dalla sua Pace.” Unfortunately, this production had the poor idea of cutting his second aria.

Alexandra Hutton was well-suited to Zerlina, with a light soprano and no problems with her arias. Tobias Kehrer was sonorous and powerful as Comendatore, but Andrew Harris was less pleasing as Masetto.

José M. Irurzun

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