Not Your Father’s Don Giovanni

I came out of the opening night performance of Chicago Opera Theater’s brutal new production of Don Giovanni feeling like I’d been pummeled. I didn’t know whether I wanted to take a shower or have a stiff drink. Or both.

My friend Karen said it best when she described the feeling as if we’d just gotten off a long ride on a skanky late night el. Imagine Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut meets Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and you have an idea of this relentless interpretation of Mozart’s opera.

Lothario Don Giovanni is portrayed as a serial date rapist who presides over a dark S&M club where masked guests cavort. Donna Elvira, one of the many women Don Giovanni has seduced and abandoned (this production tallies the number at 1,003) is a dominatrix who still loves the man, knowing how horrible he is. The young couple of Zerlina and Masetto, (inexplicably choosing a sex club to host their pre-wedding party) are like Janet and Brad in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (or Tom Cruise in EWS); innocent fish out of water until they get sucked into the depravity.

Singing and acting by the featured cast is excellent across the board. Iain Paterson is a commanding presence in the title role and Matt Boehler was excellent as DG’s right-hand man Leporello. Unfortunately, I’d have trouble recommending this version of Don Giovanni to anyone other than hardcore (no pun intended) Mozart fans who don’t mind a lurid interpretation of the classic.

Let me be clear here. Don Giovanni is not a nice guy and many the contemporary production soft-peddles the brutal, aggressive behavior of a guy who makes sport of violating women. But when it comes to simulated sex and violence on stage, a little can go a long way.

In my opinion, the grim, unrelenting production values overshadowed the music and so it didn’t work for me. And yet, I’m glad I saw it. You’ll never get me to criticize COT for trying. I’m a season ticket subscriber for the very fact that their productions can be counted on to push the envelope, not just for what they choose to present but how they do it. Creative staging, sets and lighting, not to mention high quality singing and acting, is what I’ve come to expect from COT.

COT recently announced this production will mark an exciting Chicago first. On May 9th, Don Giovanni will be simulcast on a big screen in Millennium Park. As I sat in the audience last night, I kept thinking how the heck are they going to present this racy material in such a public venue.

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2 Responses

  1. Ann

    This review of the COT Don Giovanni is spot on. I went, loved the music, but couldn’t deal with the direction. I left at intermission, and from what I heard from my friend who stayed, the 2nd half offered more perversion than the 1st half. I completely agree with the statement that the “grim, unrelenting production values overshadowed the music.” I thought the singing and musical direction were wonderful. But I couldn’t enjoy the music in the dark, soul killing production.

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