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Bieito's Don Giovanni at ENO
with music by W A Mozart The Coliseum, London 16 October 2004

Leporello lain Paterson
Donna Anna Linda Richardson
Don Giovanni Mark Stone
Commendatore Hans-Peter Scheidegger
Don Ottavio Barry Banks
Donna Elvira Mary Plazas
Zerlina Victoria Simmonds
Masetto William Berger

Conductor Stuart Stratford
Director Calixto Bieito

Having been seriously disenchanted by Calixto Bieito's take on Cosi at Oxford in 2000, we avoided his Don at its first airing, but the controversy over its revival persuaded us not to be left out. I enjoyed far more than anticipated the first act, but reservations grew during the second.

First the music (for Bieito it's last) - orchestrally it was securely directed and very well played by the ENO orchestra, with Elizabeth Rowe at the fortepiano and Stuart Stratford conducting sympathetically and flexibly at the first of the three performances allocated to him. (He is a conductor we have admired in operas as different as the marvellous Dove Palace in the Sky and the multiple composer Family Matters to a libretto by Amanda Holden, as is this Don translation.)

The singing was amazing despite the unreasonable acting demands piled upon the cast. At this performance (there were criticisms earlier) it seemed to us a dream cast, with no weak links and ensemble work of a Glyndebourne class - playing the jointly sponsored production in several venues must have helped to weld it together.

The production epitomises opera at the beginning of the 21st Century. It is well worth studying the reviews collected upon The Opera Critic at http://theoperacritic.com/reviews.php?searchid=r70&previous_criteria=Mozart (you may have to register, but it is easy and free of charge). I won't therefore rehearse all the gimmicks upon which Bieixto relies here, save to suggest that he might have told his cast, men and women all, that they should try to feel themselves all continually on sexual heat and, whenever at a loss to know what to do next, all that was necessary was to find someone to grope or simulate sex, hetero- or homo-.

The laudable aim is to reinvent the timeless myth for today's urban life, as he believes it is led nowadays (I don't go to the sort of night clubs chosen to illustrate this in the programme book, but to my eyes the scenes depicted look relatively innocuous!). This approach works a lot of the time, but meets unsurmountable obstacles, apart from crucial dissonance with the music, which requires a 'split-mind' way of looking and listening. Things go plausibly quite a long way but many episodes just don't work; the stalking and beating up of Masetto, the exhange of clothing between the slender Don and huge Leporello, the Don's serenade into an old fashioned telephone (why not a mobile?), the sexual congress with Donnas Anna and Elvira whilst they sang their big arias. The ritual group murder of the Don is now redolent of assassination images televised from Iraq.

However, some of my incomprehension is met by fellow reviewers - try musicomh.com. What impressed me most, finally, was how successful Bieito is in in directing his human puppets and choreographing the movements of these multi-skilled opera singers; that is virtuosic (even though one reviewer says he needs some assistance from a fight director and a sex worker assistant to enhance verisimilitude).

It deserves to be perpetuated on DVD, for those who don't get to London, Frankfurt or Barcelona to see opera, as a companion to the notorious Salzburg Fledermaus, and I think I will take the opportunity to see Calixto Bieito's next effort to shake us all up.

Mozart – Don Giovanni

Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona

Conductor - Bertrand de Billy

Producer - Calixto Bieito

TV Director - Toni Bargallo

Set Design - Alfons Flores

Costume Design - Merce Paloma

Lighting - Alan Burrett


Don Giovanni - Wojtek Drabowicz

Commendatore - Anatoly Kocherga

Donna Anna - Regina Schorg

Don Ottavio - Marcel Reijans

Donna Elvira - Veronique Gens

Leporello - Kwanchul Youn

Masetto - Felipe Bou

Zarlina - Marisa Martin


Opus Arte OA 0921 D

[December 2002; 2 DVDs - 156 mins]



Calixto Bieito's controversial Don Giovanni made its debut in Hanover before being seen by London audiences in 2001. It was filmed on this third appearance, at the Liceu, in 2002 and made a return visit to ENO in 2004 when it was reviewed for MP by PGW (above).


I am now pleased to welcome its release on DVD for all of us to have the chance to see and judge it for ourselves.


The opening sequence of a brightly lit road and a car driving straight towards the audience is a classic, and the notion of presenting us with a modern playboy image of the Don is a good one.


The problem is one of just how much of this sort of lifestyle we need to see played out blow-by-blow before us. The real genius of theatrical direction lies in carrying the audience's imagination beyond what they have seen on stage. In Calixto Bieito's productions it's more a case of the audience trying to shut out a good deal of what they do see.


The result is louche, tawdry, and degrading and, worse still, it often conflicts with the music.


Long before the end my interest had turned away from the plot, and my sympathies lay with stage crew who would have to clear up all that breakfast cereal and other assorted mess. Chucking all that debris around the stage can be dangerous too. Veronique Gens sports a plaster on her face which she was fingering rather gingerly at the curtain call, and during rehearsals at ENO one singer sustained cracked ribs in a fall.


Young casts were chosen everywhere for this production. Perhaps it is a reaction to the revulsion they felt for the production that makes them so determined to transcend it - and certainly the standard of singing on this DVD (and heard at ENO) is exemplary.


Serena Fenwick




© Peter Grahame Woolf