Munich’s Don Giovanni – Nicely Sung, but a Totally Absurd Production

GermanyGermany Mozart, Don GiovanniBayerisches Staatsorchester, James Gaffigan (conductor), National Theatre, Munich, 23.7.2016. (JMI)

Don Giovanni © W. Hösl
Don Giovanni © W. Hösl

Direction: Stephan Kimmig
Sets: Katja Hass
Costumes: Anja Rabes
Lighting: Reinhard Traub

Don Giovanni: Erwin Schrott
Leporello: Alex Esposito
Donna Anna: Albina Shagimuratova
Donna Elvira: Dorothea Röschmann
Don Ottavio: Pavol Breslik
Zerlina: Eri Nakamura
Masetto: Brandon Cedel
Commendatore: Ain Anger

What might have been a satisfying Don Giovanni was beset by an absurd stage production, and it certainly isn’t the first opera where this has occurred. One wonders if artistic directors don’t know what they’re asking for when they order a “new” production, but there’s no question they approve the stagings before they are mounted.

The production is by German director Stephan Kimmig, and it premiered in Munich in October 2009. He is quite well known here for his theatrical activity, but this was his first opera. To my knowledge, he has not done any operatic productions since, which is probably the best news for opera patrons.

There is a revolving stage with shipping containers of all sorts, which seem to be (according to the graffiti) located in some Spanish port. The different containers open and the scenes take place in them. It makes no difference if we’re at Don Giovanni’s party, Zerlina’s wedding, the cemetery or the dinner with the Commendatore. The costumes are modern and seem to match Stephan Kimmig’s vision, so le maschere attending Don Giovanni’s party are just skiers. Images are projected on a screen placed at the top of the stage, which is quite uncomfortable for the audience in the stalls.

During the overture, there’s a naked old man on stage who reappears on other occasions, sometimes wearing a woman’s dress, sometimes acting like a rooster in a hen house. At the end of the opera we have him again, completely naked, and who is he meant to be? Some think he’s a decrepit Don Giovanni, but any interpretation is valid. The activity of the Commendatore and his daughter in a container is not easy to understand. Even less comprehensible is Donna Elvira ̶ a noble lady from Burgos, according to the libretto – who is a backpacker living between the containers. The graveyard scene takes place – how not – in a container with butchered cows. Of course, there is no statue, no inscription, no nothing. Well, yes: there is the Commendatore to be found among the cattle. In the last scene, the Commendatore appears as a bishop, accompanied by ecclesiastical and military figures. Why do Don Giovanni and Leporello exchange clothes, since the Don sings the Serenata not to the maid but to Donna Elvira herself, who appears not in the window but in the arms of her lover. This was not the premiere night of the unfortunate production or I would have been part of the booing chorus.

James Gaffigan’s conducting seemed somewhat irregular. He was delicate when accompanying the singers in their arias and rather bland in the dramatic developments. The tempos were also uneven, but there was a good performance from the pit. The version offered was the one from Prague with the addition of Don Ottavio’s second aria, Donna Elvira’s aria and the final moral.

Don Giovanni was played by bass-baritone Erwin Schrott, who does well as this kind of pimp Don Giovanni. There’s no doubt that he is a credible performer and he does the recitatives with great intentions (although he’s sometimes excessive). As for his vocal performance, he was good but not outstanding. He was better in “Fin ch’han dal vino” than in the Serenata.

There was also a fine performance from Alex Esposito as Leporello. He is a solid actor and a good singer. Donna Anna was sung by Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova, who offered an adequate voice and good agilities. I find her quite impersonal and a rather monotonous soprano with a limited colour palette.

Dorothea Röschmann was Donna Elvira and the best Mozart singer in the cast. Her best moment was the aria “Mi tradi quel alma ingrata.

Pavol Breslik was perfectly suited to the part of Don Ottavio, proving that he is more in his element in Mozart than as Alfredo in La traviata. He sang his two arias with gusto.

Soprano Eri Nakamura did well as Zerlina: she has a beautiful voice and is comfortable on stage. Brandon Cedel in the role of Masetto left a good impression. Finally, Ain Anger was excellent as the Commendatore.

José M. Irurzun

2 thoughts on “Munich’s <i>Don Giovanni</i> – Nicely Sung, but a Totally Absurd Production”

    • Thank you for contacting Seen and Heard. The review does say the production dates from 2009.


Leave a Comment