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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Opéra Bastille - from 01 February to 11 March 2022
3h25 with 1 interval
Language : Italian
Surtitle : French / English
Opening night : 1 Feb. 2022
In few words:
For his second collaboration with Da Ponte, Mozart would mark the history of opera with his Don Giovanni: a rake who conquers and subjugates women with the cold brutality of a predator stalking its prey. Power is at the heart of Ivo van Hove’s theatre. For this keen admirer of Shakespeare, the stage is a place where contradictory forces must coexist, even if it means plunging the audience into the realms of doubt by depriving them of their reassuring certainties. The director revisits the mythical figure of the seducer who has haunted European culture for centuries and turns him into a cruel and manipulative character undermining the social order.
Don Giovanni: A rake who revels in female conquests
Leporello: Don Giovanni’s valet
Donna Anna: A young woman assaulted by Don Giovanni
Don Ottavio: Donna Anna’s fiancé
The Commendatore: Donna Anna’s father, killed by Don Giovanni
Donna Elvira: A former conquest of Don Giovanni
Zerlina: A young woman of modest means
Masetto: Zerlina’s fiancé
- First part 90 mn
- Intermission 30 mn
- Second part 85 mn
Dramma Giocoso in two acts (1787)
MusicWolfgang Amadeus Mozart(1756-1791)
LibrettoLorenzo Da Ponte
ConductorBertrand de Billy
ConductorJames Gaffigan13 et 16 février
DirectorIvo van Hove
Set designJan Versweyveld
Lighting designJan Versweyveld
Costume designAn D’Huys
Chorus masterChing-Lien Wu
Don GiovanniChristian Van Horn
Don GiovanniRiccardo Fassi25 Feb.
Il CommendatoreAlexander Tsymbalyuk
Donna AnnaAdela Zaharia
Don OttavioPavel Petrov
Donna ElviraNicole Car
Donna ElviraAnett Fritsch25 Feb.
ZerlinaChristina Gansch1st Feb.
A wonderful, free and harsh Mozart’s Don Giovanni staged by Ivo van HoveFrance Info
An outstanding revivalLe Figaro magazine
Hats off to Ivo Van Hove for such a clear-cut productionL'Humanité
Don Giovanni (saison 21/22) - Acte 1 (Adela Zaharia)
Don Giovanni (saison 21/22) - Acte 1 (Christian Van Horn et Christina Gansch)
Don Giovanni (saison 21/22) - Acte 1 (Christian Van Horn)
Don Giovanni (saison 21/22) - Acte 2 (Christina Gansch)
Draw-me Don Giovanni
Dissolute Don Giovanni
Those who Remain
Podcast Don Giovanni
Don Giovanni’s skyscrapers
Draw-me Don Giovanni
Understand the plot in 1 minute
© Charles Duprat / OnP
Dissolute Don Giovanni
An interview with the dramatist Jan Vandenhouwe
Mozart chose to call his opera Il dissoluto punito ossia il Don Giovanni (The Dissolute Punished or Don Giovanni). And yet, the 19th century ignored that periphrasis and saw in Don Giovanni both a flamboyant seducer and a subversive, liberating force. For this new production of Don Giovanni, you have chosen to go back to the original interpretation...
Jan Vandenhouwe: It was important for Ivo [Van Hove] to present a dark and uncompromising Don Giovanni devoid of all empathy, who takes advantage of everyone around him and who has no hesitation in killing: a destructive element who challenges the social order. One has to remember the Jesuit origins of the Spanish play by Tirso de Molina – The Trickster of Seville—at a time when the theatre was supposed to have an edifying function. Don Juan is a parasite who has to be eliminated to restore the balance of the world. In fact, with Mozart, he is punished twice: first by human society—and that is the essence of the role of Don Ottavio who seeks to bring the criminal to justice—but also by the statue of the Commendatore which embodies a more metaphysical form of punishment. This last verdict is of course the more complex to grasp.
How do you stage a punishment that is presented as divine?
Jan Vandenhouwe: In 2005, the Austrian director Michael Haneke [in his production for the Paris Opera] opted to completely humanise the punishment of the dissolute: Don Giovanni is stabbed to death by Donna Elvira and his body is thrown out of the window by the same cleaning staff he had systematically persecuted and humiliated. As far as we were concerned, it seemed important to retain the superhuman aspect which is at the very essence of the opera: After Requiem, Don Giovanni is Mozart’s most religious score. No other composer at the time possessed such an incredible capacity to set the supernatural to music—the stone statute that speaks, Don Giovanni engulfed by the flames of Hell... It’s enough to listen to the brass and the trombones in the section for the Commendatore to be convinced that those are the sounds from beyond the grave...
What crimes does this metaphysical punishment penalise?
Jan Vandenhouwe: If you consider the “voice” of the
punishment—namely, the statue of the Commendatore—you realise that it comes
into play at two specific moments in the opera: first in the cemetery when Don
Giovanni scoffs at marriage; and then again in the finale of Act II when Donna
Elvira visits him to forgive him, and Don Giovanni rejects her. And here we
touch on two key principles. Forgiveness is one of the underlying themes in
Mozart’s operas, whether we think of Le Nozze di Figaro or La
Clemenza di Tito. As for marriage, it was one of the cornerstones of the
policies of Emperor Joseph II, who was the first European sovereign to
legislate on the subject: back then, marriage was regarded as a symbol aimed at
preserving the balance of society by curbing the excesses of the Ancien Regime.
Ultimately, isn’t there something in the debate which crystallizes around Don Giovanni’s character as a seducer or a predator which is evocative of the current news cycle today: On the one side, the growing chorus of voices denouncing male domination and, on the other, those who see that particular liberation movement as undermining their privileges and a threat to their freedom of expression?
Jan Vandenhouwe: The tendency to absolve Don Giovanni of his
crimes first appeared in the 19th century, notably in the writings
of Hoffmann: Don Giovanni henceforth became synonymous with liberation and even
revolution. And yet, Mozart could not be any clearer: when he appears on stage,
his first deed consists of raping a woman and killing her father. And then, a
few minutes later, there he is in the street in search of a new victim... In
reality, Don Giovanni does not represent modernity, but rather, all the abuses
of the Ancien Regime. The “liberty” he advocates has nothing in common with the
liberty associated with the French Revolution: it is that of the dominator who
refuses to tolerate any impediment to his carnal pleasure. Ivo also highlights
the character’s tendency to lie compulsively. if I dare say so, the problem
with Don Giovanni is that he himself believes the Don Juan legend: he has
convinced himself that he is capable of seducing all the women cited in
Leporello’s list. And yet, in the opera, you cannot say that his exploits are
very convincing. Only Elvira is in love with him. Anna rejects him and as for
Zerlina, well, he tries to rape her. The only time in the work where we
actually see him seducing someone is during the duet with Zerlina. But we know
all too well that the young peasant girl is just the umpteenth victim to whom
he promises marriage so he can spend a night with her only to abandon
afterwards, just as he did with Elvira in Burgos. Besides, his endeavours
ultimately end in failure. For a man reputed to have seduced several thousand
women, he comes across as something of a loser...
Where do we find the counterweight to the destructiveness embodied by Don Giovanni?
Jan Vandenhouwe: In stark contrast to Don Giovanni, Zerlina and Masetto are the embodiment of the “natural” couple, in accordance with a notion dear to Mozart that we will find later in Die Zauberflöte: it is a pure and simple love, tinged with a hint of jealousy, eroticism, sensuality, and sexuality… It should also be noted that Masetto is one of the few characters in all of Mozart’s operas who can be described as revolutionary. In Act II, he takes up arms and raises an “army” to go in search of Don Giovanni, determined to finish off and eradicate the old system of oppression and domination that condemns women and the poor to perpetual servitude. Bear in mind, this is 1787, two years before the French Revolution and Masetto’s aria is infused with accents that evoke the revolutionary songs that were being sung by the people at that time.
Don Ottavio, for his part, is the Enlightened Man, the voice of Reason. He says his aim is to “discover the truth”: for this particular era, the reference is clear. Being a person who is respectful of the rule of law, the social contract and human rights, he represents true modernity. Contrary to what the 19th century would have us believe; he is neither weak nor tedious. To help him develop his ideas, Mozart composed two arias which count among the most beautiful that the latter ever wrote for a tenor: two arias in the opera seria style, imbued with profound humanism, which already act as a precursor for Titus. You cannot imagine a greater contrast with Don Giovanni who, strictly speaking, has no aria of his own—except for the fiery “champagne aria” and the canzonetta in Act II—yet the latter is literally “another’s aria” because he disguises himself as a valet to seduce Donna Elvira’s chambermaid.
You link Don Giovanni’s excesses in a historical context with the world as it was before, the world of the Ancien Régime. What resonance does this particular character have in our contemporary society?
© Charles Duprat / OnP
Those who Remain
Don Giovanni and the others
What is it Don Giovanni is blamed for? For taking too much pleasure in love and seduction, women and meeting others? Alice Zeniter has taken up Mozart and Da Ponte’s narrative, producing a contemporary fiction in a political rereading. A few centuries later, there is yet more conformism and even less humanism. Are we for ourselves or for others, the debate has rarely resonated with so much relevance.
He says he rejects the values that prop up the lives of everyone around him and that no one can judge him because there is nothing left in the name of which to judge him. Respect, fidelity, promises, obligations, they don’t exist for him, he says, it’s hot air, I refuse to conform to hot air. He says he is like a country that has seceded and in the little portion of land that is him, only his law prevails and that is the absence of law.
It’s difficult to work with him, to work for him, in these conditions. Frankly, I think I stay out of habit, in fact I’m not used to the rest of the world and society anymore and it would be just too hard to have to learn it all again.
Sometimes, in the evening, when we roll up our jackets under our heads and make a fire to warm ourselves, we talk about what remains if we reject the values of others. Why should we be afraid of the void, he says. And I reply that we’re not made for it, that’s all. He says we can progress, that there aren’t many things that mankind does today that were within his capabilities at the beginning. He says he’s not afraid of the void, that it’s up to him to lean right over to see what’s there, that it’s almost a duty, I don’t think so, since it’s easy for him? Yes, yes, you’re right if you want, after all it’s not my business. I can’t answer him every time. It wears me out.
Sometimes I tell him he behaves badly just because he can and that if he was in my situation, if he was a nobody, from nowhere, he’d behave a bit better, he’d toe the line. I tell him his anti-conformism, it’s a sort of conformism for the upper crust. He’s lived in luxury, he can play the tough guy. When he’s in a good mood, I get away with it. He laughs. He says: “Okay, Leporello, but how do you expect me to come from anywhere but where I do come from? My childhood dreams come from a bourgeois childhood, okay, but I didn’t have any other childhood. You can’t really reproach me for that.”
Sometimes, I also tell him that his fantasy about him being a country, it only works if he doesn’t approach other people. As soon as he touches another body, there’s a problem with frontiers, invasions and all that. I say, We’re getting into international law. It’s not the same laws. He laughs at me, he asks: “So you’ve read the Geneva Convention, have you?” And it’s true, I ain’t read it. But all the same.
I haven’t slept properly for the last two nights. It’s always like that. It gets into him, he calls, I say no and then I get up. It’s like agency work only better paid. It’s not as if I really had the choice.
If I had a house like he does, I wouldn’t sleep rough like a dog, sniffing and snooping around. I’d take it easy on my sofa with a wide screen and I’d have my mates round, even if I haven’t got many left after all these years working with Giovanni, I ain’t been back to the village very often, and I’ve missed too many evenings with the lads to get their jokes when I go back. I’ve told him that if he wasn’t going to doing anything with the place, he could just give it to me. He said: “Why not ... anyway, it’s in the middle of nowhere.” He’s talking about going to America, or Berlin or Thailand. Every day, it’s a new idea. At the beginning, I told myself it was crap. Now, I reckon he’s got so many guys after him that he’ll have a job doing anything else. Chicks as well but the chicks after a while, they give up. It’s not that they’re less tenacious, they’re just less stupid. You’ve got to be a guy to tell yourself that it’s worth chasing someone for weeks on end for questions of honour. As if it hadn’t already stuffed up your life enough finding out your wife’s cheated on you, you blow everything you got left to go running after the culprit. At first, I admit, I was more on their side. I said to Giovanni: “Obviously they’re after your hide, you got to understand them.” But when I see just how grimly determined they are... If they’ve got nothing better to do with their lives, then their lives don’t amount to much. I have trouble feeling any sympathy for them, and I have no respect, that’s for sure.
At least Giovanni, he tries stuff. I can’t say I agree with everything but there’s something impressive about it. In my old gang, lots of them have settled down because they’re fed up with looking for someone. They’ve found a girl or a guy that’s passable and they stay because it’s there, it’s on tap. As soon as the other person has their back turned, they’re dishing the dirt: he drives me mad, she drives me mad, he’s a moron, she’s hysterical. Giovanni, he’s off as soon as he sees it’s not going to work. He doesn’t hang around complaining. If it’s not nirvana, it’s ciao and give my love to your family. Sometimes people say that he’s a horndog. That it’s an illness at this stage. People say this, they don’t know shit. He doesn’t screw as much as all that, in fact. He spends too much time trying to convince the girls. Here, for instance, what are we doing? Screwing? Screwing my arse. We wait until the girl comes out. And when she does come out, she sends him packing because she’s going to get married soon and who does he think he is. He tells her that he’s camping in front of her house to admire her beauty, she tells him that he’s a tramp. We’re looking at another night in the park. It takes ages, his game. One day he said to me:
Leporello, if it was just a matter of having sex, then clearly I’d have more opportunities to do it if I was in a couple. Imagine it? If I had a girlfriend, a woman worthy of me, we’d have the whole house to jump on top of each other in and every hour of the day and night to devour each other, it would be a feast. We wouldn’t even count any more. We’d get out of bed just to get something to eat or a glass of water. We wouldn’t answer the phone. I said that sounded like the good life, what he was describing. He said: Yeah ... you fuck a lot when you’re in a couple, everyone one pretends not to know that. You fuck a lot but you meet a lot fewer people. It’s strange that meeting others interests so few people.It wasn’t to make himself look good that he said that. I’ll witness to that. If one day, they put him inside, I’ll tell them. I’ll go to the tribunal with a smart jacket, to look serious, and I’ll tell them things that only I know about Giovanni. It’s not rubbish, his stuff about meeting people. It’s not “dating” like on the web sites. People, they’re not just dates. I’ll tell them what I’ve seen over the years. How he approaches everyone as if something could really happen between them. Men, women, old, young, whatever. He goes for it as if, inside, there could be an answer for him. The answer to what, I don’t know. Perhaps he doesn’t know either. An answer to a question that hasn’t been asked yet. And if it isn’t there, well, it doesn’t matter, we go on to the next one, thanks for trying. I’ll tell them that Giovanni’s problem is just that he doesn’t understand that other people don’t want to have tried, they want to have succeeded. They don’t necessarily know at what; they don’t know the game either, they don’t know the rules, but at the end of the day, they want to be told that they’ve won the match. The problem with Giovanni, it’s not Giovanni. It’s people.
L'Opéra chez soi
What is this flame that compels Don Giovanni to seduce, subjugate and conquer women one after the other, with the fervour and cold indifference of a predator securing his prey; to pursue through his conquests some obscure and ever‑elusive objective?
© Christophe Pelé / OnP
Podcast Don Giovanni
"Dance! Sing! 7 minutes at the Paris Opera" - by France Musique
In partnership with France MusiqueRead more
"Dance! Sing! 7 minutes at the Paris Opera" offers original incursions into the season thanks to broadcasts produced by France Musique and the Paris Opera. For each opera or ballet production, Judith Chaine (opera) and Stéphane Grant (dance), present the works and artists you are going to discover when you attend performances in our theatres.
© Elena Bauer / OnP
Don Giovanni’s skyscrapers
A production remembered
Max-Olivier Ducout, head of the Scenery Workshops
“There’s little doubt that one of the reasons why this  production of Don Giovanni made such an impact was the staging, which was entrusted to the Austrian director Michael Haneke. His main characteristic of course is that he comes from the world of cinema: Don Giovanni—together with Cosi fan tutte [performed in Madrid then Brussels]—are his only excursions into the realms of opera to date. For the stage design, we worked with Christoph Kanter, his long-time collaborator: he created the sets for Benny’s Video, 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, Funny Games, The Pianist and The White Ribbon.
When we met in the workshops, he brought us a virtual 3D model. I remember it because, although that was already common practice in cinema, it was still fairly new to the theatre. I myself have worked in both fields and I must say that at the opera, I have a preference for physical models with volume: we need to have a concrete object in our hands to understand and appreciate the distances, the spaces, the volumes, and the backgrounds on stage.
But let’s get to the skyscraper. That part of the scenography operates according to the well-known principle of a background: it is the backdrop for the set which, for example, can represent a bucolic landscape or the rooftops of Paris. It can be a painted canvas, a bas-relief or, as with cinema, a model. The effect may be reinforced by a picture window which clearly separates the background from the rest of the space, which is the case here. The background has to respect the rules of perspective set by the distance from the lens. It is this principle which is recreated here except that the eye of the spectator substitutes for the camera.
Through the lit windows of the towers at night, we can see the interiors of the offices. We could have painted those “static scenes” on a tulle but Christoph Kanter wanted to use real pictures. So he went to La Défense one night to photograph the office buildings and he brought us a whole set of random pictures. We then enlarged the transparencies, fixed them to the buildings and lit them from inside.
This desire for reality comes out in other aspects of the set, notably in the choice of materials: Christoph Kanter wanted real stained-wood veneer and not painted plywood. It’s a source of considerable debate among scenographers: should we use the real material or a trompe-l’œil on stage? It seems to me that there is less of a risk in wanting to use real materials: clearly, the danger with theatre sets is that you end up making something that looks like a “theatre set”. But other considerations come into pla : on the one hand, it may be that the real material can’t be used because of its weight (concrete), its fragility (glass) or because of regulations (sand); and on the other, the audience at the opera is seated thirty metres from the stage so real marble can look fake while an imitation may seem more authentic than the real thing. That’s why the “sample phase” when we present the materials to the scenographer is so important. So real or imitation? I’d be wary of formulating a general rule.
But let’s get back to our skyscrapers: in his production, Michael Haneke imagined Giovanni as the CEO of the company in which the drama unfurls. As a result, he wanted his office to be located at the very top of the tower to signify the power that the job title conferred upon him. In order to create an impression of height, the buildings needed to appear to descend below the stage in such a way that the audience would never see the lower floors, even if they were seated in the second balcony. That is why we placed the towers on horizontal mirrors, to create the impression of an abyss. The only thing we had to do then was make a trapdoor close enough to the edge of the ledge not to be visible, so that the body of the reprobate could disappear when the employees fling him off the tower into the void.”
Interviewed by Simon Hatab