- Associated Press - Monday, August 9, 2010

SALZBURG, AUSTRIA (AP) - There was so much to like in Monday’s new production premiere of Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Salzburg Festival that it’s difficult to know where to start.

The staging and direction? Audaciously successful. The voices? Brilliant. And the orchestra, a dream.

With this opera more than two centuries old, uncounted stagings have faltered either because they were too conventional _ a.k.a. boring _ or so desperately wannabe avant garde that they clashed with the original story; a dissolute rake meets his just fate, death and damnation after a life of debauchery, coupled with murder.

We had a major redo Monday but presented through the refreshing prism of director Claus Guth and the result was as if a moth-eaten carpet was taken out, hung on the line subjected to a thorough beating and reappeared in its original brilliance.


Guth’s Don plays out in a forest, a constantly changing diorama mounted on a rotating stage with props added or disappearing out of sight of the audience.

Some of the unusual objects seen on stage Monday: a full-size car driving through the woods that serves as the venue for a tete-a-tete between the Don and one of his paramours; a rural bus stop, with the same function, and a variety of forest landscapes that make this patch of trees almost as big as the all-outdoors.

Kudos to Guth as well for shaping the characters of the Don and his servant Leporello into characters as believable as if they had just stepped out of the next back alley.

The Italian nobleman of the classic opera and his manservant were turned here into two hipsters, into beer and recreational drugs and replete with all the gestures that transmit coolness. Strangely, the libretto fits these dudes despite its age, a tribute to the timelessness of Lorenzo Da Ponte’s text.

Christopher Maltmann was a fabulous Don Giovanni in voice and dramatic expression, upstaged only slightly by Erwin Schrott as the servant Leporello. But they were best together: Leporello, the bass, the straight-man to the Don, the baritone, as Mozart and De Ponte would have it.

A rich variety of female voices brought on stage by the Don’s objects of desire added to the musical delights. The mature timbre of Dorothea Roeschmann as Donna Elivra; the fresh sound of Aleksandra Kurzak as Donna Anna, and the bubbly enthusiasm of Anna Prohaska as Zerlina, the peasant maid.

Also good: Dimitry Ivaschenko as Donna Anna’s father and Adam Plachetka as Masetto, Zerlina’s nearly cuckolded husband.

Joel Prieto as Don Ottavio covered for a sick Joseph Kaiser with admirable constancy and growing vocal confidence. And in the pit, Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducted a supreme ensemble that shifted effortlessly from the tight unit underpinning the soloists on stage to the poignant solo woodwind or harp that heralded the start of one of the singer’s finer vocal performances.

Apropos finer moments _ perhaps the finest. The death scene.

On Monday, the Don met his maker in the forest _ where else. The mood turns sinister even before Donna Anna’s father, murdered by the Don, turns up in the gloom to start digging his killer’s grave.

Then, within minutes, the death cry of a reprobate who chooses the grave instead of redemption. And the snow continues to fall.

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