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2006-5, Zürich, Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni


Click here to download a trailer: http://www.art-tv.ch/dongiovanni.html

Click here for more photos of this production

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Librettist: Lorenzo da Ponte
Venue and Dates: Zurich Opernhaus
7, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 24, 29, May, 2, 5, 8 July 2006
Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst
Director: Sven-Eric Bechtolf
Sets: Rolf Glittenberg
Costumes: Marianne Glittenberg
Lighting: Jürgen Hoffmann
Choreography: Stefano Giannetti
Don Giovanni : Simon Keenlyside2006_Don_Giovanni_Zurich9a

Leporello : Anton Scharinger

Donna Anna : Eva Mei

Donna Elvira : Malin Hartelius

Don Ottavio : Piotr Beczala

Commendatore : Alfred Muff

Zerlina : Martina Janková

Masetto : Reinhard Mayr
Orchestra and Choir of the Zurich Opera House (Choir Master: Ernst Raffelsberger)

Notes: New production

was published as DVD by EMI



An interview with Franz Welser-Möst on Austrian Radio Oe1 on Saturday 6 May.

Transcribed and translated by Ursula Turecek.

It can be listened to again on the website below, which also has a short extract of SK singing the Champagne aria.


What the announcer says

What Franz Welser-Möst says

„Don Giovanni“, sung by Englishman Simon Keenlyside, loves, betrays and deceives for all he is worth. He even does not shrink away from murder to detain people from finding out his flirtations. A character that Mozart nevertheless makes come across as likeable, which conductor Franz Welser-Möst absolutely understands.

Because in everyone of us….. or at least we want that something like this is hidden in us too. That is to say this seductive, also a little demonic, particularly this playful quality and he is somehow an elusive…. as I always say: an airy character, he is flying through this piece and we cannot really stop him.

For him as the conductor it is necessary to work out the difference between the musical characters of Don Giovanni and the other figures. For while Don Giovanni is orientated towards the future, Donna Anna’s character, sung by Eva Mei, is orientated rather backwards.

Well… Donna Elvira, Donna Anna, Don Ottavio, all of them are characters who are actually very baroque and…. and… stand still or even look back and erm…. Don Giovanni is a character that is always going towards the future, and Leporello is always trying to follow him erm… but does not succeed.

Sven Erik Bechtolf’s production does not transfer the action into the present, as is often to be seen. It takes place in an indefinite time that nevertheless has a baroque touch. The stage design surprises as a room with golden walls continuing infinitely by means of mirrors. Elegant furniture in Art Deco-style forms a simple counterpoint. The production presents itself similarly simple but entertaining, thinks conductor Welser-Möst.

He is one of the very few opera directors nowadays that does not want to necessarily design great images but who is interested in the story, who… who is extremely precise in leading the characters and really tries to make these characters live and not glue them up with images. Regrettably this has been in fashion far too much for the last decades, I think.

Undressing beauties in champagne mood and all kinds of humorous scenes give a pleasurable evening to the audience, while the singers are fairly challenged not only musically but also as actors.




Click below for the interview, “Don Giovanni, a mosquito. A conversation about animals and theatre.”

Translated by Ursula Turecek.

Tages-Anzeiger; 16.05.2006; page 54. Zurich journal.



Click below to see reviews by members of the audience:

A personal view by Jane Garratt

A personal view by Janet Woodall

A personal view by Petra Habeth

The following website contains many reviews of this production in their original language. http://www.impresario.ch/review/revmozdon.htm

Translations will appear on this SK.info page as soon as possible

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 9. 5. 2005 (Marianne Zelger-Vogt).

Translated by Ursula Turecek

The one and the others

Mozart’s „Don Giovanni“ at the Zurich Operahouse

„Can you put this on stage ?“ Thus director Sven-Eric Bechtolf asks several times in his eloquent contribution to the programme about the characters of “Don Giovanni”. The answer is always negative, with nuances between “barely” and “no, no, no”. Nevertheless Bechtolf produced Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera – who could resist this piece ? And he put it on the stage of the Zurich Operahouse together with the couple Rolf and Marianne Glittenberg for the settings in a very special way. A hall in Art-déco-style with golden, sinuously structured side panels that form lanes like at the baroque theatre, forms the consistent architectural frame.

Scenic aesthetics

This is composed artfully, with cool elegance, culminating in the lamps and the black furniture. And when the room is reflected in the depth of the back board a vista into infinity opens like in the story of the great seducer. Marianne Glittenberg’s costumes – evening gowns in exquisite materials for the ladies, black and white dinner jackets for the gents, a red velvet jacket for the eponymous hero – also bring the characters close to the present anchoring the action at the same time within a generous upper class into which Don Giovanni’s servant Leporello and the peasant couple Zerlina and Masetto are integrated as hangers-on.

This glamourous society that lapses into modern dancing steps again and again is present right from the beginning. The opening scene between Donna Anna and Don Giovanni takes place during a party that actually continues to the end. The game of seduction between the sexes – by all means reciprocal and coupled with a disposition to violence – staged by Bechtolf following the principle of duplication and multiplication is on everybody’s mind – and in this respect Don Giovanni in Bechtolf’s reading is not so different to his takers and opponents at all.

What makes him outstanding is mainly his interpreter, Simon Keenlyside. The inimitable agility of his body as well as his voice – a bright, flexible baritone, even in the most delicate piano, vigourous – make him an exceptional case as character and as performer. And the impression he gave five years ago in the last Zurich “Don Giovanni”-production proves true in the most beautiful way: This is a Don Giovanni who equals his great predecessors in charisma but comes across as very contemporary in his almost boyish naturalness, at the same time nonchalant and coiled.

Bright sound, light voices

Musically this new production differs from the earlier one even more than scenically. Unlike Nikolaus Harnoncourt then, Franz Welser-Möst backs a light, transparent sound, almost the production of  chambermusic, the centre of which is the region of piano. The recitatives are emphasised by the pianoforte-accompaniment. The tempi are very fluid, but explicitly slowed down in the rural scenes (not perceptible as such on stage), not always synchronously with the soloists. In the orchestra – sitting in the lifted pit, nearly at level with the stalls – precision is still lacking occasionally too. But in the overall flow the performance presents itself as of one founding, highly aesthetic, delicately artful, but despite the numerous undress-scenes barely sensuous.

Accordingly the parts are cast consistently with lighter voices than in the Harnoncourt/Flimm version, except for Alfred Muff’s impressive Commendatore, some sort of super-father to whom Piotr Beczala’s Don Ottavio outwardly approximates. With the radiance of his timbre and the finesse of the way he employs his voice Beczala as Don Giovanni’s opposite impersonates the sensitive, delicate type of man to whom the director concedes erotic attraction too. At his side Eva Mei’s soprano that tends to acuteness in the high registers of Donna Anna’s part is not very rich in colours. The question if Malin Hartelius’ voice is already mature for the role of Donna Elvira remained undecided with her role debut. Under the strain of the first night she developed a vibrato that we usually do not know in her. With his warm, lyrically grounded baritone Anton Scharinger as a promoted-butler Leporello fits exactly in the cast concept while Martina Janková’s charming Zerlina and Reinhard Mayr’s distinctive Masetto ennoble the bridal couple both in voice and acting.

But then Bechtolf did attach some barbs in terms of offences against performance standards: Instead of champagne, Campari orange is served at Don Giovanni’s feast; the Commendatore’s statue is replaced by an archaic African idol, brought by that dark-skinned woman who bemoans Donna Anna’s father after his assassination. The inside of this wooden figure is provided with a magical force that effects the eponymous hero’s death onstage after the oligatory handshake, without any descent completely out of sight into hell. And finally for the lieto fine the survivors get nicely packaged presents as companions for their future lives – gags that deserve barely more than a shrug.



Neue Luzerner Zeitung, 9. 5. 2006 (Urs Mattenberger).

Translated by Ursula Turecek.

Timeless „Basic-Instinct“-party

On Sunday Mozart’s „Don Giovanni“ was premiered at the Opernhaus Zurich. Simon Keenlyside as youthful daredevil protagonist is the event. With his Justin-Timberlake-charm this Don Giovanni comes across as a representative of the modern Spassgesellschaft [fun-society]. Mozart’s „Don Giovanni“ is a real seducer again at last. Director Sven Bechtolf makes use of this fact for an erotic thriller: Enthralling till the superimposed end.

Director Sven-Eric Bechtolf enumerates many reasons why you can hardly stage Mozart’s „Don Giovanni“ adequately any more. On the one hand it is politically incorrect that an unscrupulous womaniser turns a popular figure just because he represents erotic longings. Then again the suitable singer for a believable presentation of the erotomaniac is often lacking and that’s why the opera is interpreted often as some sort of swan song: Don Giovanni remains luckless as a seducer because a modern society like it’s, represented by the sample bridegroom Don Ottavio, does not put up with sexual libertinage any more.

The current Zurich Don Giovanni is briskly different in this respect. Simon Keenlyside represents the smart seducer with boyish Justin-Timberlake-charm but his flowing baritone full of self-assertion marks at the same time reckless, gutsy virility. Thus he radiates erotic fascination immediately and appeals as surprisingly modern representative of the Spassgesellschaft.

He is cornered by exciting characters and top-class voices. Piotr Beczala redefines the value of Don Ottavio as a sensitive antagonist of the antagonist of the aficionado of women with vigorously radiant tenor. Eva Mei performs his fiancée Donna Anna with crystal clear soprano, as if she had frozen inwardly after the encounter with Don Giovanni. Even the mortified Donna Elvira is no fury of vengeance here: With charmingly light voice Malin Hartelius plays a hurt woman that is confused about being erotically seducible. Anton Scharinger provides tangible humour as Leporello, Alfred Muff gives impressive effect to the Commendatore. And the Zurich Opera’s orchestra under Franz Welser Möst makes the score an event subtle yet wound up to an incisively high pitch.

Timeless party

Sven-Eric Bechtolf’s production does owe high qualities to all of this. Bechtolf emphasises the universal character of this type of Don Giovanni by staging a timeless party: The suite of r2006_Don_Giovanni_Zurich9booms extended by projections is inspired by the baroque theatre (Rolf Glittenberg), the fancy costumes quote amongst others the Fifties, the lounge-furniture is like that of today.

The direction of the persons, turning the opera into an enthralling “Basic-Instinct”-thriller that has its symbolic side despite of all realism, is powerful. When Donna Anna execrates Don Giovanni while slapping partygoers in a row, it is clear that the macho in all of us is meant too. And when scantily dressed party-ladies gather round the noble Don Ottavio it becomes apparent that even reason cannot save from erotic distress. Only in the end the kaleidoscopic pictures topple into the banal, when Bechtolf interprets the Commendatore’s entrance with an African statue as voodoo. There Keenlyside’s contemporary Don Giovanni comes across paradoxically much more datelessly archaic.




Vox spectatricis, 8. 5. 2006 (Chantal Steiner).

Translated by Ursula Turecek.

The child within the man

For those members of the audience who succeeded in engaging completely in the Don Giovanni production and in casting off “tradition” yesterday’s first night was best musical theatre. Although the final applause turned out enthusiastically, from the first night audience’s scraps of conversation you arrived at the conclusion that this engaging [of the production] gave a number of troubles to some of them.

The Opera House’s orchestra under its musical director Franz Welser-Möst was once more in top form. It played lightly, lively, with a velvety sound, transparently, sensuous. The use of the pianoforte instead of the harpsichord in the recitatives improved the sound excellently. At times you had the feeling of hearing a “new” Don Giovanni. This might have been due to the rather unusual tempi too. For example I never heard Leporello’s catalogue aria so lyrical before. But in my opinion it thus gains incredibly in intensity.

This transparency and joy in playing was perfectly in line with Sven Erik Bechtolf’s production. His Don Giovanni is not an arrogant snotty upstart who seduces all ladies merely out of cool deliberation and sexuality but a merry man who never grew up, a “big child” that does everything he likes to do with great joy of playing and is not aware of the consequences. He tries to fathom limits – and if there’s something he does not like he “stamps his foot and gets furious”. For his love of life Don Giovanni comes across as likeable and now it is understandable why he wins hands down with women. Simon Keenlyside represents this virile, bodily Don Giovanni with an incredible amount of waggishness, playfulness, spontaneity and charisma, both musically and as interpreter. He draws every facet from his competently employed warm baritone, his pronunciation is extremely articulate and he can cope effortlessly with the gentlest, most beguiling sounds as well as with the dramatic outbursts.

For me Donna Anna’s character has not been coherent in all the productions I’ve seen so far. Her behaviour seemed too confused to me. Now Bechtolf shows a woman here who got mixed up with Don Giovanni, who loves him but who is torn to and fro between convention, remorse (because she feels responsible for her father’s death) and passion. She does not succeed in eluding Don Giovanni’s magic till right in the end. This ambivalence of feelings is shown magisterially. With regard to her singing Eva Mei was not (yet) totally convincing, the higher register was cramped at times and the colours of her voice slightly monochrome. But she represented the character perfectly to the last detail.

Normally I don’t really like Donna Elvira, in many cases she is drawn as a hysterical bitch (here I remember with horror Cecilia Bartoli’s Donna Elvira in Flimm’s production) represented by a high mezzo or a dramatic soprano. With Bechtolf she is a deeply hurt, again and again forgiving, loving woman. Malin Hartelius may not be everybody’s cup of tea in this part because she is a downright lyric soprano und possesses a light voice. In every other opera house and with another (“louder”) conducting she might well perish. But although her vibrato bothered me at times I felt her performance to be very touching, moving and absolutely felicitous. She staggers in the scene where she realises that she has been deceived by Leporello who posed as Don Giovanni. This really gets under the skin!

Piotr Beczala’s greyed Don Ottavio is a man who is as good as his word, dutiful, loving to the point of self-abandonment but maybe slightly too calculable to fascinate a woman – who has got to know Don Giovanni. Beczala performed both his arias gorgeously. The flourishes with which he adorned “Dalla sua pace” conveyed a completely new audio feeling. Purists may find fault in Beczala’s occasional sobs; they do not bother me at all – even if I would prefer an interpretation à la Michael Schade in the end. But Beczala possesses such a beautiful voice that you can get over this light-heartedly.

Martina Janková’s Zerlina is charming; she made a bride as fresh as a daisy, cheerful, lively and also touching, and showed no vocal flaws. Together with Keenlyside certainly the winner of the evening. Her husband Masetto was also optimally represented by Richard Mayr. A short-tempered, virile, young man who mastered the vocal demands. It is enjoyable to see the constant improvement in performance this singer achieves from one opera to the next.

Alfred Muff completes the achievements of the singers that were acclaimed by the audience with his sonorous bass while Anton Scharinger’s Leporello remained a little pallid compared to Don Giovanni. But therefore he came across the more slimy, perfidious, bootlicking and dissembling. A person who would like to have his master’s “calibre” but never reaches it and only wants to enjoy himself immensely. Hitherto I by all means had sympathy for this character; as recently as in this production Leporello’s perfidy dawned upon me.

This is a great merit of Bechtolf who draws and leads the persons with much love for detail. His production – once again with Rolf Glittenberg’s gorgeously aesthetic stage stetting and Marianne Glittenberg’s amazing costumes – narrates but interprets little. This is fully enough to experience a pleasurable and exciting evening. In my opinion the dancers who typified the protagonist’s inner spaces were a slight overkill at times. For some members of the audience Bechtolf’s perception was too realistic and they missed Don Giovanni’s descent into hell for example. I myself did not miss anything with these amazing singer-actors; on the contrary – many new aspects in the music and in the libretto stroke me only here. It is certainly debatable if the “stony guest” really should be only an African table-statue, if voodoo is part of the game or not. But the whole production was coherent and harmonious.

I felt that the end with this, for me unspeakable, moral “Questo è il fin di chi fa mal” (that actually does not go with the piece) was impressive. Parcels stand on the table as if by magic: Presents for all of the remaining protagonists. They proceed to open them and silver objects come out that represent their futures. Only Donna Anna does not open hers but puts it on the chair on which Don Giovanni was overtaken by his fate, while Don Ottavio is staring at his with disillusionment: a wrist-watch !

Result: An absolutely felicitous evening, musical as well as scenic, with an outstanding Simon Keenlyside, even if it was – contrary to “Pelléas et Mélisande for example – maybe not Bechtolf’s masterpiece.


Die Welt, 12. 5. 2006 (Manuel Brug)

Translated by Ursula Turecek

Murder in the ballroom. Simon Keenlyside excels as Don Giovanni in the Zurich Da-Ponte-cycle.

Bad times for operatic seducers. It is true, due to the Mozart-year Don Giovanni invites the Stony Guest to the unfortunately final love-feast much more frequently than otherwise during his 219 year career on stage. But he is hardly allowed to do so as a virile baritone-macho any more. The legend has become earthly long ago: as a manager in pinstripe, a Casanova of the suburbs, as a little meanie and a stale squirt. As someone who with his immoral pretension is troubling [in] a society that is comfortably established even with its moral standards.

In Zurich however, where the reliable tandem of Franz Welser-Möst (in his 60th first night!) and Sven-Eric Bechtolf begin to replace Harnoncourt/Flimm’s Da-Ponte-cycle that is not yet ten years old, Don Giovanni is allowed to be a deluxe creature. Somebody who dances the ennui away from his dandy-soul in an Art-Deco-ballroom shifted like a baroque stage with golden scenery. Simon Keenlyside sings and acts the Don like his life’s role. Despite of Terfel, Hampson, Gilfrey [sic], Skovhus – he seems to be the most credible personification of the erotic slimline-male at the moment, his voice flowing marvellously soft but also distinctively, and mockingly playing with words. An eternal youth in an athletically shaped body like those in “Man’s Health”, shrewd, with a touch of cynism and “horror vacui”. One who is playing with his victims generously, then striking in an ice-cold fashion. European Psycho. Fine that this singer, who often refuses himself to the business, now has a CD-contract with Sony.

Simon Keenlyside is the uncontested centre of this sophisticated and glamourous production. Sven-Eric Bechtolf who gives much liberty to his actors places them in Rolf Glittenberg’s party tunnel that is caught in a never-ending reflection at the beginning and at the end. Supernumeraries are frozen in eternal dance or pose blankly, the eternal feast as a shop window-exhibition.

The other characters fit casually into this including Franz Welser-Möst and the orchestra of the Zurich opera, who initially played slightly impurely. They all contrasted with Harnoncourt’s chiselled dramaturgy with nearly too much ostentation by well-balanced tempi and a brightly radiating sound. Anton Scharinger is an agile Leporello, Alfred Muff a solid Commendatore. Piotr Beczala’s Ottavio is not only vocally more griping than usual, Reinhard Mayr’s Masetto acts insubordinate in a cultivated way.

Giovanni’s real opponents are the ladies: Eva Mei, like a lemon-acid Anna in alluring red, later she is wearing Giovanni’s dinner jacket nostalgically. Malin Hartelius as enjoyably unhysterical Elvira tries a still developable (but lyrically skilful in coloratura) expansion of her Fach. Martina Janková as Zerlina-girlie is superior.

Sure enough, towards the end Bechtolf mistrusts his undogmatic, timeless approach, and does not like metaphysics: Giovanni has to die at the bar, knocked down by an African fetish put up by the Commendatore’s black lover.

Mozart.at – Mozart Magazin (Wolfgang Huber-Lang)

Translated by Ursula Turecek

Cheering for Zurich „Don Giovanni“ by Bechtolf and Welser-Möst

The first night of Mozart’s „Don Giovanni“ conducted by Franz Welser-Möst at the Zurich Operahouse yesterday, Sunday evening, was a nearly complete musical feast. In a ballroom framed by golden portals the opera developed all its drama. A Don Giovanni with James Bond-appeal stood in the centre. But director Sven-Eric Bechtolf gave Simon Keenlyside a veritable opponent: Piotr Beczala as Don Ottavio with glowing vows of fidelity and radiating tenor voice sang himself into the ladies’ hearts.

You could nearly think that Don Ottavio is the real womaniser. Beczala, years ago a member of the ensemble in Linz, has one of this evening’s most beautiful and carrying voices. His infatuating hymn to constancy sounds like a mating call to the ladies. Bechtolf has a band of dancers magically attracted by it, until they carry Ottavio off stage on their hands like a trophy. In many other silent scenes they perform a battle of the sexes and a dance in the hall, which is sometimes prolongated into infinity by means of video projection and sometimes furnished with furniture to sit or lie on or with a mobile bar (stage: Rolf Glittenberg). Ottavio’s only handicaps thereby are the abominable helmet-like grey wig Beczala has to wear and the static facial expression and acting that make the singer who will also appear as Thomas Hampson’s adversary in Kusej’s production of “Don Giovanni” the next Festival summer, come off the loser against his opponent.

For Keenlyside has great presence not only vocally but also as an actor. With a bared chest during Donna Anna’s seduction at the beginning he proves impressively trained, his whole interpretation of the role is of a winking gentleman-rogue, of a secret agent at libido’s service, who laughs a lot and usually tends to leave an affray unharmed and with a cynical comment, no matter how many flick knives flash up. Anton Scharinger who sings his Leporello impeccably too sticks to a more traditional drawing of the character, Alfred Muff as Commendatore impresses more as a dead than as living, only Reinhard Mayr as Masetto cannot match up with this and remains pale.

Among the ladies Martina Jankova as Zerlina stands out, achieving not only a convincing performance as an actor in conflict between the different promises for the future the men offer her but also disposing of a flexible but clearly employed voice that sounds of a pure heart at one time and of pure sex at another. Her arias and duets counted among the first night’s cheered highlights. Donna Elvira always has a rather hard time as killjoy and Malin Hartelius, debuting in this role, stood her ground creditably without finding her way to tragic grandeur. And Donna Anna? Eva Mei sang her intimately, anxious for an interpretation, but very conventionally. In Bechtolf’s production that is always flexibly looking for surprising images to tell the story, which has been seen a thousand times, excitingly (in which he is sometimes conclusively successful and sometimes not, but not remotely deserving the few boos that mixed with the final cheers when the director appeared) she has a hard time.

But all of this would have been a fool’s errand, had it not been that the Opera Zurich’s orchestra and musical director Franz Welser-Möst who conducted the orchestra – that he heads as chief conductor since 1995/96 – for the 450th time this evening, in such top form. You noticed the main thing in the conductor (who has the recitatives accompanied by a pianoforte) and his musicians from the first second: They like their work and Mozart’s music a lot. I’ve rarely seen – and above all heard – a conductor who is that relaxed, who gives the first entry with an encouraging smile, who moves through the score with ease and finesse and does not just execute it, who is able to smile at the proceedings on stage again and again but in the next moment does not leave anything to be desired in dynamics and drama. One understands that Alexander Pereira is praising the conditions in Zurich to the skies. And one begins to look forward to the “Ring” that Bechtolf and Welser-Möst are preparing for the Vienna State Opera. But then the State Opera’s orchestra will sit in the pit…

Die Presse, 9 May 2006 (Wilhelm Sinkovicz)

Translated by Ursula Turecek

The bad boys at the school of love

Don Giovanni in Zurich. Together with Sven-Eric Bechtold Franz Welser-Möst opens new Mozart-perspectives.

In the matter of Mozart, Zurich has been a place of pilgrimage for music lovers interested in new interpretatory perspectives for many years. Nikolaus Harnoncourt more or less subscribed to the great operas of the composer whose jubilee is celebrated this year – now Franz Welser-Möst has finally rehearsed one of the Da-Ponte-operas as his sixtieth (!) first night in Zurich. And once more we may speak of a redefinition of all Mozart-values. There’s a completely different sound, more fresh, more vivid, but also more grave than usual.

We’re done with all precipitate haste. This seems to be Welser-Möst’s top priority motto: His dramaturgy regarding the tempi makes you sit up and take notice time and time again. Where new speed records were established in past years he suddenly takes time. Thus Anton Scharinger is allowed to scour the catalogue aria for shades, and provide the character’s fine adjustment by which Leporello becomes absolutely more profound. The same applies for Donna Elvira’s solo-scenes that Malin Hartelius is allowed to interpret carefully but with great expression. Thanks to Möst’s considerate, moulding approach, the Zurich Opera orchestra’s woodwind also has enough time and possibility to place all the whimsical and sensitive footnotes with which Mozart furnishes his psychologic web.

Thus due to the vividness and polymorphy of the single voices, the impression of more subtle, more colourful comedy and greater dynamics manages to make itself felt in defiance of a deliberate deceleration. The action is full of the highest inner tension and develops compellingly until the descent into hell that is intensified in a musically breathtaking way. Sven-Eric Bechtolf’s production cannot completely match up to this, but it is of fanatically pointed drama at times and uses the facilities of realistic play as well as surreal stage-effects expertly.

The production shows us Don Giovanni, Simon Keenlyside, as a bad, spoilt boy who often seems to wonder at his magical appeal to women himself but hormonally profits from it without any shame.

Piotr Beczala, a vocally mature Don Ottavio, trained rather with Verdi’s mellowness and espressivo than with Mozart’s classical lines, forms the politically correct antithesis to this anarchist; let him be right in anything he says and thinks – especially in the masterly managed coloraturas of the aria in b flat major – every moral and judicial system is helpless compared to the outlawed condition conjured up by the normative power of Don Juan’s virtual presence. Thus the good man becomes the born loser; even vis-à-vis his beloved Donna Anna: When Ottavio wants to fall into her arms the director quickly lowers the curtain between the two.

Bechtolf interprets many a subtle ensemble in Mozart’s network of relationships in this way, precisely and with scenic fine-tuning. But his approach fails in front of supernatural power. The stony guest turns into a harmless wooden voodoo figure. This still does not have any effect in catholic countries, let Keenlyside sink down ever so pained in Rolf Glittenberg’s Art Deco ambience glittering coolly in gold: It’s the music that sends cold shivers down the spectator’s spine, chorus, orchestra, Alfred Muff’s hollowly droning Commendatore and Anton Scharinger’s coward who articulates precisely to the point of apocalyptic terror.

It is interesting that the director shirks above all the cryptic scenes that frame the work. Together with the descent to hell, Donna Anna’s and Giovanni’s first, much discussed entry remains without direction and perishes in a tangle of supernumeraries that uncovers only a view of a confused kiss: Anna is kissing the blackguard. But does she know who he is? And that he is the same she has just pursued as a rake? Like many of his predecessors Bechtolf does not want to answer the question of the actual relationship between these two characters that has been discussed fiercely since Romanticism.

But subsequently he succeeds in an excitingly developed production that leaves the priority to the music at the critical moment, a fact that, except for Eva Mei’s Anna who sounds acute and thin, practically all soloists make use of wonderfully; last but not least the peasant couple to whom Reinhard Mayr and above all Martina Jankova’s inspiredly singing Zerlina give hearty profile.

Claudio Poloni for ConcertoNet


Translated by Jane Garratt

The Don Giovanni for our time.

If every époque has its Don Giovanni, ours is to be found in Simon Keenlyside an exceptional holder of the title, after the likes of Hampson, Terfel, Skovhus and also Gilfrey, as he comes back opportunely to the new production of Mozart’s masterpiece staged by the Zurich Opernhaus. The English singer burst forth onto the stage in several successive jumps, like a big cat, naked to the waist, pectoral muscles protruding. His talents as an actor and his physical attractiveness allow him most naturally to play a libertine, a bad boy “par excellence”, cynical and cold, shamelessly playing at seduction and sexual attraction. Because for the producer Sven-Eric Bechtolf, a regular of the Zurich theatre, no doubt is permitted that sex is the motivation of the actions. This is suggested by the numerous scenes of copulation and strip-tease marking out the show, which unfolds in the very glamorous surroundings of an immense room in an art deco palace, with gold decorations and infinite perspectives, reinforced by a mirror effect.

From beginning to end the production is conceived like a long, sophisticated party for gilded youth lacking strong feelings. Don Giovanni doesn’t only raise the pulse rate of a bored middle class. The intention can really be thought of as a reduction to define a very complex character, but it at least has the merit of being clear and coherent from start to finish. Moreover as already stated, it is helped by a formidable interpreter, who also has the voice demanded by the part. Simon Keenlyside shows impeccable diction, a perfect mastery of the sung notes as well as an immense palette of colours and nuances, as much in the expression as in the volume, with a bright and supple voice. Every note appears to have been minutely studied, controlled, which does not however prevent the singing from appearing natural, like all great art! Since cameras were present in the room we can only hope for a quick release of the DVD of the performance.

Franz-Welser Möst, for whom this is his 60th Zurich premier gets from his musicians bright phrasing and a transparent tone, but doesn’t always manage to avoid gaps. His Don Giovanni is light, vivacious, nimble, here and there marking the time too slowly to allow the interpreter – and the public – to breathe, with a notably surprising very languid, ” Madamina! Il catalago e questo”, aria. Even if they do not attain the heights of the title role, the vocal cast is strong and beautifully held. Mostly light voices, with the exception of the Commendatore the forceful tone of Alfred Muff. Its homogeneity is in most cases one of the successes of the staging. One retains above all the performances of Martina Jankova as a very lively Zerlina, even though Eva Mei seems now overtaken by the range of Donna Anna, even though it’s a role which she started singing at the Opernhaus in 1992.


Opernwelt July 2006 (Alexander Dick)

Translated by Ursula Turecek

The “beautiful, wild animal” – the man

Conceived abstractly, done concretely: Sven-Eric Bechtolf’s and Franz Welser-Möst’s “Don Giovanni” in Zurich

Normally it is rather contrary: In the programme, directors offer full-bodied explanations of a concept which does not really reveal itself even with the “instructions for use”. In contrast Sven-Eric Bechtolf is overmodest this time. In the essay on his new production of “Don Giovanni” in Zurich – incidentally a brilliant, concise interpretation of the work – he tells us what should not be shown if you don’t want to lay violent hands on the piece. And succeeds without laying violent hands on the piece – hats off to him.

That is – what is shown may be understood as a cosmos of archetypes, equipped with the regalia of a glamorous present: smoking jacket, dinner-jacket, petticoats, sexy underwear and more attractions of that kind. But on the other hand Marianne Glittenberg’s sophisticated costumes somehow are not that decided or concrete, despite, for instance, all the colour symbolism of the eponymous hero’s jackets. Just like Rolf Glittenberg’s stage, which is a construct aligned in central perspective and made completely of golden frames that, as backdrops, quote the theatre of Mozart’s time. But both of them speak to the spectator in their original functions: the costumes as costumes, the stage as stage. In other words: Bechtolf’s “Don Giovanni” with its furniture (bar, chaise longue) actually comes across as concrete to the same extent as the abstract conception.

The opera is no equation, has no message, that’s what the director tells his readers. So what is it – apart from Mozart and da Ponte – that makes the production grab attention? It is Bechtolf’s art of directing the characters precisely, in fact the virtuosity with which he brings to life the archaic archetypes, the mythic part of the plot in exemplary fashion, and advances the “dramma giocoso” with cynical serenity. This can’t be done without connotations. We experience Don Giovanni as a kind of Erdgeist, as a male counterpart for Wedekind’s instinct-driven Lulu. Reciting his catalogue aria with ultra-care, Leporello is the tamer in tails who describes “the real animal, the beautiful, wild animal”. We even almost recognise a Goddess of Fertility in the statue of the Commendatore that is brought on stage by an archetype mother, and which represents something frenetically archaic. We? It’s rather Don Giovanni to whom it appears like this because, being governed by an indomitable appetite for the other sex, he is only capable of one perception of things.

Bechtolf does not make any accusations, does not try a didactic play. Even if the persons concerned see themselves in a video projection as in a mirror in the end: No questions are left open, everything is as it is. With the exception of the music. Franz Welser-Möst interprets it in an energetically “new” way – contrary to the conventions in performance of the last years. In his 450th conducting at the Zurich Opera the musical director achieves great things and scrutinises the score in a completely unfashionable way. The first quarter of an hour came across as rather distracted, but afterwards together with his musicians he presented to the audience a great “Don Giovanni evening” that offered the established combination of the Prague and the Viennese version. It is amazing how much musical tension he puts into the scenes that sustain the action, his piano-sections are charmingly sentimental and his tempi are surprisingly moderate but all the more exact in terms of the score’s demands. The result is an extremely organic, “enlightened” conservative tonal language that contrasts pleasantly with many a woodcut-like interpretation of the “historically informed” sort.

This helps the singers too. Because of the slow allegro, Anton Scharinger is allowed to pull out many more interpretatory stops in his catalogue aria than most Leporellos nowadays may. And he does so with overwhelming charm and the grand air of his “master”. Simon Keenlyside as Don Giovanni also cuts a magnificent figure, a flexible baritone with premium material who even knows how to conceal a momentary, brief irritation of the vocal chords excellently, assisted by conductor and orchestra who immediately back off more dynamically.

This Zurich Mozart-sound is extremely cultivated: With Piotr Beczala whose two Ottavio-arias have textbook-quality; with Malin Hartelius who does justice to the drama of Elvira’s part with her velvety lyric mezzo; or with Martina Janková whose Zerlina brims over with lively grace vocally and in her acting. Eva Mei’s Donna Anna is vocally elegant and clear, but comes across as a little strained in the coloraturas. Reinhard Mayr (Masetto) and Alfred Muff (Commendatore) are up to their parts’ standard and the chorus, rehearsed by Ernst Raffelsberger, also sings without a flaw. At the end therefore frantic applause for the music, bravos for the production, but also a few boos. They certainly would not have come from Mozart.

Horst Koegler for Opera, October 2006 (extract)

“ Zurich’s third Mozart cycle in 40 years started promisingly on May 7 with a strongly Spanish-flavoured Don Giovanni, directed by Sven-Eric Bechtolf, with Simon Keenlyside in the title role. Looking elegant in Rolf and Marianne Glittenerg’s art-nouveau-inspired decor, the production emphasized the archetypal essence of each of the characters. I have seldom experienced this opera more precisely well cast-with Alfred Muff (Commendatore), Eva Mei (Donna Anna), Piotr Beczala (Don Ottavio), Malin Hartelius (Donna Elvira), Anton Scharinger (Leporello), Reinhard Mayr (Masetto) and Martina Jankova (Zerlina). Franz Welser-Most electrified his musicians so that the performance gathered momentum almost to exploding point – a great evening.”

Bernard Halter for Resmusica, 19 May 2006


Translated by Peter Workman

Don Giovanni – Zurich – total commitment from Simon Keenlyside

Zurich Opera has splashed out on a new staging of Don Giovanni, produced by Sven-Eric Bechtolf. The characters ensnared, seduced and deceived by Don Juan and his little schemes act out the story in middle-class, Art Déco-style living rooms against a background provided by the stage’s endless vistas. The choreography governing the movements of the puppet-like dancers calls for stylised gestures which bring out a latent eroticism underscoring the characters’ ambiguity. For example, when Don Ottavio begins to sing his aria “Dalla sua pace“, lustful women perform a striptease around him, as though to contradict his words. Whilst stopping short of outright indecency, the production nonetheless nurtures from start to finish the symbolism of a sexuality permeating every level but remaining within the bounds of respectability and avoiding nudity and excess of any kind. Would Don Giovanni restrain himself to such an extent? The casting of the opera in these terms is reflected in the scenery, which is somewhat anaemic except for a few kitsch touches supplied by the (intentional) excess of gilt ornamentation. The opera’s violence receives similar treatment: the scene in which the vengeful Commander returns features a ridiculous African statuette. “New Age animist flirting” is how Julian Sykes mischievously but aptly describes it in the Geneva daily Le Temps. More fitting words to describe this kind of exotic minimisation would be hard to find. The feeling of deliberate restraint, of a distancing from the work is ever-present, even if nothing is left out and no situation is radically misrepresented.

In this setting and against this background, Simon Keenlyside comes to the fore and establishes his dominance by means of his turbocharged stage and vocal presence. He cuts a fine, sturdy figure and he portrays a Don Giovanni who is at once spellbinding and perfidious. He has a bewitching smile, the stature for the role and the vocal qualities needed to bring out all of the character’s lyricism and theatricality. Alongside him, Anton Scharinger’s Leporello wisely displays a gentler nature. His voice is certainly powerful but it also has a roundness which is a shade on the jovial – almost buffa – side. Amongst the women, Eva Mei as Donna Anna is still as effortlessly shrill as ever, although she always holds in check the tragedy which gradually envelops the character.

More in step with her role, Malin Hartlius plays a lively Donna Elvira – idem Martina Janková as Zerlina. The tenor Piotr Beczala – who was an admirable Tamino in Zurich last autumn – once again proves to be a first-rate Mozart performer and an artiste worth watching. Reinhard Mayr’s outraged Masetto and Alfred Muff’s charismatic Commander round off yet another superlative cast of the kind customarily on offer at Zurich.

In the orchestra pit, Franz Welser-Möst conducts with care and accuracy, making sure not to impede the dialogue. However, he leads his troops (particularly in the overture) with a hint of frenzy which sometimes overrides dramatic expression and prevents it from flowering as it should. One might be tempted to describe this as a kind of musical timidity mirroring a production which likewise fails to take things to their logical conclusion.



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