” Who is dead ? You or the old man? » This outburst of commedia dell’arte, which punctuates the first dialogue of the valet Leporello with Don Giovanni, after the latter has killed in a duel the Commander who came to the aid of his daughter, Donna Anna, has always made us smile.
Director Claus Guth caught her on the fly, and took her at her word, to develop around Don Giovanni the story of an agony whose adventures of seduction are only the stages of a long descent to the tomb. Wounded to death, the unrepentant seducer will experience the entire opera as a slow vital and psychological hemorrhage: a key idea which made the German director’s version, revealed in 2008 at the Salzburg Festivala sort of great clic, which the Paris Opera presents at the opening of the season from September 13 to October 12.
Furtive silhouettes between the tall trees of a coniferous forest, scenes shrouded in a full moon or drowned in autumnal mists, punctuated by the frightened ballet of flashlights or the spotlights of car headlights: the two acts will not leave the cover vegetal, circumscribed by a rotating stage, nor the dark atmosphere of an endless night where beings and spaces entangle and pursue each other in a macabre round. Clothes for any decorative element, a makeshift bus shelter for a destination with no future, a swing that looks like a gallows (Don Giovanni will push Zerlina there in her wedding dress, before the Here I darem la mano foreshadows of Maiden and Death). Who are these celestial tramps, guests of the woods fed on cans of beer and shots, delivered to a wild party that will go wrong?
Mozart’s “Winter Journey”
The couples and their pretenses, their unrequited desires, the call of another and elsewhere again and again, everything reeks of loneliness. The song is never addressed to the person who receives it. Donna Anna sings about her father’s mourning and the love she owes to her fiancé Ottavio without for a moment detaching her thoughts from Don Giovanni whose body she continues to mentally embrace. Zerlina ures Masetto of her loyalty until the end, but it is curled up on herself that she offers herself to him. As for Elvira, she will embody until the end the prototype of the female victim.
Things are not better for men. If Masetto understands quickly enough that he will not find the woman he loved, indelibly marked by Don Giovanni, what can we say about Ottavio, whose long martyrdom, revived by Anna’s successive stories – , mourning -, drags on in insoluble waiting? And of course a Don Giovanni at the end of his strength, whose last battles as a seducer end in blood and failure, until the fatal meeting, in the snow, the end point of this Winter travel Mozartian, with a Commander who looks like a gravedigger.
As in one of the Viennese versions of the opera (a year after the Prague premiere in 1787), and following a practice commonly practiced in the 19th century, Claus Guth cut the final sextet from the lieto fine, a moralizing epilogue which returns each character to their destiny. An avoidance inherent to Guth’s trajectory, whose Don Giovanni seems to join a pantheistic destiny: everyone will blend into the great whole of their carnal disappearance.
Flexible, contrasting, but sometimes messy, Antonello Manacorda’s direction favors horizontal lines over rhythmic edges, as if the conductor, echoing the staging, had immediately shifted a score played not in the present tense but in the past. His art of accompanying singers will not prevent numerous gaps between pit and stage, particularly in the first act.
The irresistible charm of Peter Mattei
On the set, a host of young, talented artists, although none comes close to the title role, Peter Mattei. Since 1998 and his discovery at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, the Swedish baritone is undoubtedly the best of the current Don Giovanni, a role sung on all the major international stages, and, at the Paris Opera alone, in 2006, 2007 and 2012 in the striking direction by Michael Haneke.
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In twenty-five years, the singer has lost none of his irresistible charm, the sensual velvet of his voice, his power of incarnation. Thus the moving “Serenade”that he sings lying like a beast on the ground, aspiring to finitude (“Please come and ease my pain”), or his Air of champagne, gushing torrent of life like a broken artery. Masterful to the end, imperious, impetuous, born actor, innate musician, for a Mozart who flows naturally.
To say that the others pale in comparison would be an exaggeration. But we have known Zerlina more sparkling and erotic than Ying Fang, Donna Elvira more poignant than Gaëlle Arquez (whose intonation is often low), Leporello less caricatured than Alex Esposito and Commander more impressive than John Relyea. The disappointed nobility of Masetto by Guilhem Worms, the borderline Donna Anna by Adela Zaharia or the sanguine Ottavio by Ben Bliss draw, more than character profiles, beings of flesh and blood.
Don Giovanni by Mozart. Bastille Opera, Paris, 12e. With Peter Mattei, Adela Zaharia, Gaëlle Arquez, Ying Fang, Ben Bliss, John Relyea, Alex Esposito, Guilhem Worms, Claus Guth (director), Christian Schmidt (sets and costumes), Olaf Winter (lighting), Ramses Sigl ( choreography), Ronny Dietrich (dramaturgy), Orchestra and Choirs of the Paris Opera, Antonello Manacorda (conductor). Until October 12. From €15 to €220. Operadeparis.fr