Πέμπτη, 30 Ιανουαρίου 2014

T-5: Never ever invite the Statue to dinner.

Wow! Two posts in less than a month! That is quite the accomplishment, at least for me. This time there isn’t much to complain about. Actually, there is nothing to complain about! Incredible. Either I have been really content lately or nothing significant has taken place. Both explanations are fine with me. So, without any further ado, let’s talk about Statues, shall we?


Even if you are not at all familiar with the world of opera, chances are that you have seen Don Giovanni in some form, at some point in your life. Maybe not as Don Giovanni, but in his many other incarnations from books to the cinema – it is, together with Romeo and Juliet, probably the second most popular hero in our western tradition. The incorrigible libertine, the seductive Casanova, the mysterious Don Juan has been an obsession of both sexes; let’s be honest with each other: Men envy his many conquests and try to be like him and ladies do dream about him, even if they do not admit so to anyone… I could go on explaining why this particular character is so captivating, but I won’t.
Instead, I’ll jump straight to the point and start discussing (with myself) the operatic incarnation that W. A. Mozart created together with his buddy Lorenzo Da Ponte of this intriguing character. The premise of this opera is rather simple: said Don tries first to seduce Donna Anna à fails (?) à kills her father à tries to seduce Donna Elvira (his ex-wife) à runs away from her à tries to seduce Zerlina (a lovely maiden on her wedding night) à fails à tries to seduce Donna Elvira’s housemaid à fails à invites the Statue of Donna Anna’s father to dinner (!!!) à ends up in Hell. A number of characters are also involved in this lovely plot – namely Leporello, his servant, Don What’s-his-Name, Donna Anna’s fiancé and Masetto, Zerlina’s husband – and let us also keep in mind that the above plot happens during one night and one alone…
Let’s start with the discrepancies (I always wanted to do that): This is supposed to be the guy who has successfully seduced more than 1.000 ladies of all ages and statuses across Europe? Well, he sure does fail a lot during this fateful night… Also, if he kills Il Commendatore on that same night, how is it possible to invite his statue, which has already been erected at the cemetery? When did they inter the guy? There is a huge problem here, but we’ll go with it, because that is what makes the opera so great! Add to that the fact that the scenes in which he disguises himself as his servant are not at all convincing – I mean, wouldn’t Donna Elvira realize she is not with her husband, but his servant? It is rather curious.
There is also one really stupid character; that’s right, the Don What’s-his-Name (Ottavio. If I think about it, his name is a disgrace to another Octavian, but that is an entirely different blog entry! That was a spoiler for what lies ahead, by the way). Let’s see: if you compare him to Don Giovanni, he is weak. If you compare him to Masetto, he comes off as unmanly. If you compare him to the Commendatore, he really doesn’t strike you as the scary kind of guy. He hates violence, has no idea how to confront his own fears – least of all how to confront his fiancé’s fears – and he sings some really cheesy tunes. Truthfully, it is only those cheesy tunes that save this particular character. Thankfully, his is a minor role in the entire plot and so we can easily put him out of our minds and concentrate on more important stuff: the two ladies and the Statue!
First comes Donna Anna (although, since Don Giovanni was married to Donna Elvira, she should take precedence, but let’s follow the script here and not take things chronologically). It’s really strange, but to me, Donna Anna was always an elusive figure, that doesn’t really gain much substance. But there is also a certain ambiguity in her character. No one really knows – except for herself and the Don – what happened between the two of them that fateful night. Modern interpretations of the opera have even suggested that she invited the man herself and then, to uphold her honor, she cried “rape”. But what if she truly did invite him and then cry rape? She becomes automatically the perpetrator of her father’s murder. She is guilty of involuntary manslaughter! So, the act of pleasure seeking ends up badly, severely damaging her and her future. The request then she makes of Don Ottavio to avenge her father is essentially her own attempt at salvation and forgiveness. Don Ottavio doesn’t carry out his oath, of course, because he is quite incapable of doing that. But, this is opera, so the punishment will come and it will be severe. Of course, one has to ask oneself why Don Giovanni should be punished, if we accept that Donna Anna invited him in the first place!? If she didn’t invite him and he truly wanted to rape her, then fine, he deserves the punishment, but let’s be honest – we all like the other idea more, right? [A truly devious mind might even argue that the murder of the father was planned by the daughter, because she was certain he would come to her defense… But we do not have devious minds around here, now, do we?]
Then comes the ex wife. There had to be an ex, of course. Now she is something entirely different! Here you have a woman with a mission! She is truly, madly, deeply in love with Don Giovanni and because she is so in love, she tries desperately to save him from himself. In the process she ends up saving Zerlina, but that is also part of the game. Donna Elvira is a magnificent creature, in my opinion. She is willing to sacrifice everything for an ungrateful husband. She ends up empty, obviously, and her only recourse would be to join a monastery, but she has great potential. It is the stupidity of man and Don Giovanni in particular that simply makes it impossible for her to be happy. Also, Donna Elvira is the only person in the whole plot, who actually foresees the unhappy end the Don will suffer in a splendid aria in the second act, where she describes with great accuracy the fires of Hell ascending. Donna Elvira is not mad – as many productions like to portray her. She is merely deceived by none other than the God of Love himself. She cannot be faulted for failing in her mission.
And finally comes the Statue. I love everything about the Statue, plain and simple. The Commendatore before his death is simply a man who wants to defend his daughter and his family’s honor. But after his death, he becomes so much more: He is Death incarnate, he is the right hand of Justice, he is the representative of Hell on Earth and he sings "Don Giovaaaani!" in the most sonorous bass line that was ever written. I never quite understood why he comes from Hell, maybe he doesn’t, but I always felt that he is not godsend. I could be wrong, but I have an argument to support my theory: it is in his constant pleading with Don Giovanni to request forgiveness, in his vain attempt to save the libertine from eternal damnation, that I see him as a soul trapped in those same flames that will devour the protagonist. For some strange reason, he wishes to spare his mortal enemy the agony he is suffering. All in vain, of course. The Don is a narcissist above all and the last thing that would cross his mind would be to ask for forgiveness. So they both end up in Hell, probably sharing a hot tub…
This all then is supposed to be a “dramma giocoso”, a happy drama! Mozart had a weird sense of humor, that much is well known and documented. But where is the joyfulness in the plot? By the end of it you have two dead people, a servant with no master (who instead of relishing the fact that he is free, decides to find a new master), an ex wife who will probably take up the habit, a failed relationship and most definitely a failed future marriage and the happy-go-lucky-newlywed peasant pair that really doesn’t care much about anything else other than pleasing their carnal desires. Happiness? Joy? Definitely not. Not even the illusion of them! Only Justice (?) for a man who was so self-conscious it killed him.
Of course, there is a “but”. This is Mozart! Divine, elegant, melodic, dramatic Mozart. Don Giovanni is not just about an intriguing character, it is about the music involved in it. Treatises upon treatises have been written about it; about how the protagonist never sings an actual aria, or about the ambiguous musical setting of almost every scene – there is metatext to be found in everything here! And there is excitement. I always get really edgy when the dinner scene begins. It is the frivolity of the wine song that is contrasted with the Statue’s ominous “Don Giovanni” exclamation that turns the tables literally. Or the really inspired ensemble scenes, where no voice is redundant. It is passionate music, with a touch of irony and even pain that was composed here. Was Mozart sympathizing with his libertine? Who knows? Fact is, this opera is not just an all time classic, but it is probably the greatest contribution to the myth of the Don Juan. And I am definitely loving this version the most. Which is why, when talking to Statues, I remain respectful and graceful and never ever invite them to dinners…


Δεν υπάρχουν σχόλια:

Δημοσίευση σχολίου