Dimitri Tcherniakov has been seen a fair bit on TFO lately. After recent productions of Il trovatore and Ruslan und Ludmilla, tonight’s broadcast had special importance, a co-production with several companies including the Canadian Opera Company. COC General Director Alexander Neef introduced the broadcast of an interpretation we can expect to encounter at some point right here in Toronto at the Four Seasons Centre.
This live performance from 2010 featured exquisite singing & the brisk tempi of Conductor Louis Langrée leading the orchestra of the Festival in Aix-en-Provence.
I feel well-prepared temperamentally for this excursion into Regietheater after yesterday’s The Last of Romeo and Juliet. I find myself often noticing the difference among audiences for different media. Shakespeare’s text was altered far more than what I saw tonight from Tcherniakov, who gives us almost the entire text, while playing with a few relationships. Why do I feel this will be a tougher sell for the COC? Perhaps because the opera community is more conservative.
Whatever else one says about Tcherniakov, he’s an amazing director. This is one of the most committed performances from a full cast that I have ever seen. I’m not saying I love it all. But there are some inspiring moments. In fact, watching it via video I am very eager to see it live, because it’s hard to decode through my television. But let me repeat, Tcherniakov lights a fire under his cast, as they are stirred and shaken, brought to vibrant life from the beginning to the end. Some moments are more radical than others.
The ending –whereby you can really measure many interpretations—reminds me a great deal of another COC Don Giovanni from a few years ago. In that one Masetto impersonates the Commendatore, a pretend stone-guest. This one is somewhat similar, scaring the Don, who falls to the floor with chest pains. He doesn’t seem to die, but in the final ensemble everyone looks him in the eye and shakes off his powerful influence, no longer intimidated or afraid. It literally doesn’t matter whether he lives or dies.
I found some moments worked better for me than others. I especially liked the interaction between Masetto and Zerlina, two characters often marred by sentimentality, as played by Kerstin Avemo and David Bizic. I’ve never seen such electricity, every moment pregnant with meaning. When Avemo sings “La ci darem la mano” with Bo Skovhus’s Don, we’re witnessing something unlike any version of this duet I’ve ever seen. Avemo is the most vulnerable woman I’ve ever seen in this scene, lying on her back as though completely ruined before he’s even put a hand on her. And Donna Elvira peers darkly through a glass door at their interaction.
At the beginning we are told about some different relationships that didn’t fully come across to me; but perhaps had I seen it live, I’d feel differently. Donna Anna is Zerlina’s mother, while Donna Elvira is Anna’s cousin. Elvira is married to Don Giovanni, and Leporello is a relative. We’re in modern times so it makes sense I suppose, given that Leporello is supposed to be the Don’s servant.
It’s all quite new, even if it’s also very different from what we expect. Is that a problem? I don’t think so, as I love this kind of adventure, especially with a familiar text. For example, in Don Ottavio’s “dalla sua pace”, portrayed by Colin Balzer, we get the real subtext. Although he’s speaking of his desire to help his beloved Donna Anna find peace, we see him go into a foetal position as he sings, taking comfort from her instead.
There are some scenes that work better than others. I find the masqued moments at the Don’s party near the end of Act I to be silly, although if I see it in person I hope it will persuade me. This time? I was watching people pairing off in new constellations, so that when I saw Ottavio kiss Masetto I simply giggled. I’m not saying it won’t work, but I guess I need to see it again. Some of the changes are rather good, as for instance we’re through with Leporello’s silly catalogue, one of the more tired and overdone bits of business in the entire repertoire.
No we don’t know when this production will come to the COC, who are about to announce their 2014-15 season mid-week. Carsen’s Falstaff’s coming next year, but as for Girard’s Parsifal or Tcherniakov’s Don Giovanni? No one knows when we should expect them to turn up.
The COC’s future looks exciting indeed.