No news here. Mariusz Trelinski’s 2003 production of the work many consider the greatest of all operas is back yet again at the Music Center, with its splendid singing (as before) and its stupefyingly ugly production (ditto). Uruguayan baritone Erwin Schrott returns in the title role, dashing and forthright.
Trelinski’s production hails from Warsaw’s Polish National Opera, with unit set by Boris Kudlicka and costumes by Arkadius. There was no scenery; black walls, streaked with multicolored thin bands, surrounded a pit midstage. Up out of this black hole, an open-sided coffin rises and falls and serves as Giovanni’s dining table, just before he is dragged down to hell. Into that hole topples the murdered Commendatore in the opera’s opening scene. Out of that hole emerges that Commendatore at the denouement, quite a bit the worse for wear: not the majestic “statua gentilissima” of da Ponte’s script (and Mozart’s music) but a moldered, ragged mess. A bevy of dancing nuns — honest! — act out Leporello’s “Catalogue Aria.” A grove of dancing trees momentarily eases the bleakness in the first-act finale. For the great second-act sextet, the six singers became a thundering herd.
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To a kindly disposed observer, the evening added up to a display of clever but willful stage tricks; surrounding the stage action with luminous tubes and cord strips is as snazzy a showbiz effect as money can buy. The problem so often, and so emphatically here, is the danger of ending up with a show that is merely about itself — and a show, furthermore, that insults the audience’s ability to be thrilled by the wonders in this greatest, subtlest of all classic operas.
It seems to insult, as well, the superior musical forces gathered for the occasion: the probing, nicely detailed performance led by Germany’s Hartmut Haenchen and a superb young cast, sparked by sopranos Alexandra Deshorties and Maria Kanyova as the dames who bring about Giovanni’s downfall — and who, in a more respectful (i.e., less gimmick-ridden) staging, might have made this “Don Giovanni” the Los Angeles milestone that the opera deserves.