Monday, November 26, 2007

Diabolical Don G

Nigel Andrews has a new article in the Financial Times, called The Celluloid Sopranos, in which he writes about the tragic deaths that have historically followed filmed operas:

"It is like watching childbirth. Through a narrow channel (the movie projector beam), with struggle, exertion and sometimes pain, a living entity (the opera film) is forced out into the world. The first impression is of a bawling mouth and lots of noise. The first instinct, often, is to hold the creature upside down and smack it hard. But the end result can be a miracle: a living organism growing up straight, rich, true and complex. Though the infant mortality rate in filmed opera is high – famed fiascos include 1953’s Aida with Sophia Loren miming to Renata Tebaldi’s voice – we can think in compensation of Syberberg’s Parsifal, Losey’s Don Giovanni, Bergman’s The Magic Flute. Next week we have the UK release of Kenneth Branagh’s The Magic Flute: very different from Bergman’s, possibly a candidate for smacking, but with moments of giddy grandeur."

While I’m not an opera connoisseur, I must confess, I have a real thing for Don Giovanni. As a protagonist, he’s such a bad, bad boy. He’s un-sympathetic, un-empathetic – diabolical even! - he’s the Diabolical Don G! And HE is the protagonist! Not only that, the man has no character arc. He never changes his ways, nor even considers it. At the very end when Don G literally faces death, he refuses to repent and pays the penalty with his life. Then the rest of the cast sing gaily about how this is a moral tale where the wicked die just as they lived.

The other interesting thing about Don G is the construction of the cast design. The monstrously un-sympathetic Don is surrounded by very sympathetic supporting characters. You feel sorry for them and all the ways Don G wrongs them with reckless abandon for his own self indulgences. The play also goes to great pains to show you different sides to each character in order to give them depth, which really makes me happy. In the states, Don G's usually watered down and lightened up. In Europe, especially Italy, they give you the hardcore Don G, a Don so wicked that death is only too merciful.

I love it.

With respect to the article, there will never be much of a crossover into film. Opera was always meant to be experienced in person, although in this new age of high definition DVDs and TVs and glorious surround sound, people might be more inclined to watch DVDs of operas, but like me, they’ll only want to see filmed performances.



See also:

Don Giovanni on Wikipedia

Here's the final scene of the opera from the film, Amadeus:


Mim said...

Mozart has long been one of my favorite musical artists. I used to own a copy of Don Giovanni on LP when I was in high school. It is an amazing and richly textured story.

Musically, I prefer Die Zauberfloete, but I have always acknowledged the superiority of Don G. as a more mature story.

Mystery Man said...

He's one of my favorites, too. He really is. And I know that piece! I have the album by the London Classical Players. Oh, geez, now I have to listen to it...