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The Austere Dissolute

Teatro Regio
01/12/2023 -  & January 15, 19*, 21, 2023
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni, K. 527
Mariangela Sicilia (Donna Anna), Carmela Remigio (Donna Elvira), Enkeleda Kamani (Zerlina), Vito Priante (Don Giovanni), Riccardo Fassi (Leporello), Marco Ciapani (Don Ottavio), Fabio Previati (Masetto), Giacomo Prestia (Commendatore)
Coro del Teatro Regio di Parma, Martino Faggiani (chorus master), Orchestra dell’Emilia-Romagna, Corrado Rovaris (conductor)
Mario Martone, reprised by Raffaele di Florio (stage director), Sergio Tramonti (sets & costumes), Pasquale Mari (lights), Anna Redi (choreography)

C. Remigio (© Roberto Ricci)

Don Giovanni has been described by many composers and writers as the greatest of all operas. Other than Mozart’s rich score, it enjoys an equally brilliant libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. Given the fascinating nature of the seducer protagonist, there are many possibilities for a stimulating staging. Mario Martone’s somewhat pedantic vision was of interest, but had its shortcomings.

Martone opted for a production inspired by French stage director Ariane Mnouchkine in which the public is implicated with the performers. This had the singers entering the stage through the hall and walking off through the audience. While initially amusing, this gimmick soon became annoying and distracting. The second way that Martone “involved” the public was by dispensing with sets and having instead bleachers with extras seated in a semi‑circle à la Globe Theatre, therefore effectively serving as a mirror of the public. To a large extent, this helped render actual sets superfluous (and hence reduced costs). But in the end, the dramatic success of this idea was limited.

This production did however feature some imaginative ideas that worked. When Donna Anna sings “Or sai chi l’onore,” imploring Don Ottavio to vindicate her murdered father, she sees a vision of the ghost of her father, Il Commendatore. When Leporello sings “Notte e giorno a faticar,” he rolls the dice, receiving unsatisfactory results corresponding to his station in life. In Leporello’s “catalogue aria,” wherein he describes Don Giovanni’s voracious appetite for women of all ages, sizes, shapes, social classes and nationalities, a variety of masked dancers appear on stage representing “la bionda, la bruna, la grassotta, la magrotta, la maestosa, la vecchia, la giovin’ principiante.” Upon close inspection, the blurred features of the masks render the women faceless, alluding to Don Giovann’s dehumanizing view of women.

Despite Martone’s lack of vision, this was the most extraordinary vocal interpretation of Don Giovanni I’ve ever heard. Vito Priante, though a veteran of several comic operas, didn’t show any propensity for self‑derision, an attribute which would have softened his debauchery and perhaps – God forbid – rendered him endearing. Vocally, Priante is amazing in the title role, exuding both virility and self‑confidence. Riccardo Fassi’s Leporello was the only character interpreted with a certain degree of humour. This may have been deliberate, as his rich voice is naturally regal. Otherwise, it would have been difficult to distinguish him from Don Giovanni.

Mariangela Sicilia’s interpretation of Donna Anna was another outstanding vocal highlight of the evening. She is blessed with an incredible range, total ease in the upper register and an easily recognizable and appealing timbre. Endowed with natural trills, she was allowed by conductor Corrado Rovaris to introduce several thrilling ornamentations in her arias “Or sai chi l’onore” and “Non mi dir.”

Carmela Remigio, a veteran bel canto soprano, was an ideal choice for Donna Elvira. With a lower tessitura than Donna Anna, it is the most dramatically intricate role of the opera, and Remigio played the part with panache, so impressively nuanced was her Elvira. She made the most of her recitatives, a trademark of true Mozartian singers. The introduction of “Mi tradì” was utterly moving. One could feel the conflicting emotions: rage, passion and tenderness. In her first aria, “Chi mi dice mai”, she perfectly conveyed devotion, despair and the urgency of her quest. In her final encounter with Don Giovanni, “L’ultima prova dell’amor mio,” her sincerity was touching.

The only non‑Italian in the cast, Albanian lyric soprano Enkeleda Kamani, was a charming Zerlina. In a role I often find tiresome, she was unusually riveting. A perfect soubrette, she instilled plenty of charm and sensuality in her arias “Batti, batti, o bel Masetto” and “Vedrai carino,” without the slightest hint of vulgarity. She exuded natural elegance, a trait that helped explain why a peasant girl would be tempted to entertain unlikely ambitions of grandeur. In repeating the same phrase “non più forte” in her duet “Là ci darem la mano,” her phrasing was masterfully nuanced, progressively yielding to Don Giovanni’s advances. Her Masetto, played here by the virile baritone Fabio Previati, was convincing as the jealous bridegroom.

Tenor Marco Ciapani was a vocally elegant Don Ottavio. He too was allowed to display his prowess for ornamentation in his two arias “Dalla sua pace” and “Il mio tesoro.” He impressed with the brilliance of his high notes and his elegant style. He was less convincing in his portrayal of a nobleman, the equal of Donna Anna. This may have been a deliberate choice by the stage director. In an effort to show his wimpish character, Martone had Donna Elvira, then Zerlina and finally Masetto exit the stage as he sang his Act II aria “Il mio tesoro.”

Bass Giacomo Prestia convincingly conveyed Il Commendatore’s authority and noble station, but his basso cantante didn’t contrast enough with Vito Priante’s deep baritone. To instill fear in the cemetery scene and in the opera’s final scene, “Don Giovanni, a cena m’invitasti,” a deeper voice is required.

This was a provocative and well‑conceived staging with interesting ideas. However, my biggest reservation is the production’s simplistic view of Don Giovanni as a dissolute who merits eternal damnation. To portray the anti‑hero only in a negative light weakens the drama. The public must sympathize with him somewhat. Yes, he’s morally corrupt, but the drama would benefit from a more nuanced perspective. He is a charmer as well as a libertine who defies society’s mores. Martone chose to portray Don Giovanni as a rapist, both in the first scene with Donna Anna “Non sperar, se non m’uccidi” and in his final scene with Donna Elvira. The first scene is often staged ambiguously, leaving us to wonder if Anna was a willing participant in the seduction. There is nothing in the libretto indicating attempted rape when Elvira beseeches Don Giovanni to mend his ways. Even in his duet with Zerlina “Là ci darem la mano,” Priante is too callous in his facial expressions. If Don Giovanni is not a charmer, then how has he achieved his conquests? Is he simply a serial rapist?

This reproach goes hand in hand with Martone’s disregard of the intentions of the creators of the opera. Librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte and Mozart himself called the opera dramma giocoso, not tragedia morale or dramma biblico. Indeed, Don Giovanni would be too dark and heavy if its comic elements were removed. Alas, here, even such scenes as the aria, “Madamina, il catalogo è questo” were devoid of humour. While I am no advocate of forced humour, there was hardly any in this production, despite the witty libretto calling for it. Thankfully, the extraordinary interpretations of the singers, especially Mariangela Sicilia and Carmela Remigio, made this a marvelously memorable evening.

Ossama el Naggar



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