In its 93rd season, and with the effectual energy of young conductor Gustavo Dudamel on a multi-year contract, the LA Philharmonic is certainly redefining the orchestral experience. Their unique production of Mozart's Don Giovanni in collaboration with director Christopher Alden, Disney Hall architect Frank Gehry, and award-winning fashion designers Rodarte, re-imagined this classic opera in a very modern, abstract, provocative and decidedly Los Angeles way.
I was fortunate enough to be a guest of Sutton Stracke's in her absence, and was in the delightful company of wonderful women including: Kimberly Brooks, artist and founder of the Huffington Post Art Section; and Dr. Charlotte Eyerman, American Director of FRAME (French American Museum Exchange) and independent curator.
Composed in 1787 by Mozart, with the libretto written the same year by Lorenzo da Ponte, Don Giovanni is certainly a timeless tale. Don Giovanni is described to live in a world where everyone exists for him. "If I were monogamous, it would be cruel to all the other women," says Don Giovanni when defending his lifestyle to his confidante/servant Leporello. Oh yes, 225 years later, how many men today still believe this? There were so many moments in the performance that made me think of a few male friends and laugh aloud.
Leporello, performed by American bass Kevin Burdette, truly stole the show for me. He not only has an impressive voice, but also is a fantastic comic actor of the very physical sort, often interacting directly with the audience. He at times reminded me of the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. I cannot say enough. He was captivating, and everyone adored watching him.
Though after the performance I was told by Rodarte's team that the men's costumes were inspired by chess pieces, and that the tops and pants referenced straight jackets, I also saw minimalist motocross meets Luke Skywalker in Stormtrooper armor. Our Don Giovanni 2012 gentlemen wore hand-painted chest and shoulder pieces resembling motocross protective gear, and simple white shoes with Velcro straps up around the thighs. Their pants were very sporty: all one color with multiple zippers (white for everyone except the very commanding Commendatore, Stefan Kocan, who was in head to toe black).
"Large women are magic. The petite ones are always charming," brags Don Giovanni. Soprano Aga Mikolaj's Donna Elvira was the larger than life shining star of the females. She dominated the stage like a powerful Goth queen from some other world in her two black lace, silk, jet and Swarovski-embellished Rodarte dresses and headpieces. (The costume changes for Act II were more dramatic for the women, with their hair and dresses becoming more disheveled and offering more movement). Mikolaj's voice echoed from deep within her soul and made us feel every emotion. Soprano Anna Prohaska (Zerlina) was the most petite opera singer I have come across. Her costume was the only one of pastel coloration and matched her lilac colored wig by Odile Gilbert perfectly. Her wig was fashioned in a loose, tousled manner almost resembling cotton candy. There was a moment where Zerlina danced around quietly by herself to the music, her petite arms motioning slowing much the way one does when dancing to Depeche Mode. I imagined her in the middle of the dance floor at Sunday night's "Part Time Punks" at The Echo in Echo Park.
Zerlina and her fiancé Masetto, played by Bass-Baritone Ryan Kuster, had a most incredible chemistry! The very slow-motioned intimate moments between them left our group feeling a bit like voyeurs. Their movements also called to my mind the languid and beautiful choreography of Tino Sehgal's "The Kiss" at the Guggenheim. (Kimberly Brooks and I looked at one another very wide-eyed as we whispered, "hot!" as the couple caressed ever so slowly and deliberately.)
Baritone Mariusz Kwiecień as Don Giovanni was the perfectly strong, self-absorbed macho man. In a very bawdy moment, he moved his hand very slowly beneath Donna Elvira's skirt, up to her thigh, removed his hand and moved it leisurely down his face, opening his fingers at his open mouth. At that moment, the entire audience gasped loudly, though I am rather sure I may have gasped the loudest. It was quite shocking!
Framed by Gehry's minimalist modular installation, the collaborative creation placed Don Giovanni in the vein of a performance art piece as much as it was opera. I took away an almost sci-fi feel in both the costumes and set design. Gehry's installation reminded me of a deconstructed Kubrick film set in the minimal style of 2001: A Space Odyssey meets the starkness of certain Star Wars scenes filmed in the deserts of Tunisia. The cast interacted very much with the paper sculptures, caressing them and hiding their bodies underneath the many folds. The ladies and I discussed that the paper mounds could be representative of the women's skirting that the men kept hiding their faces in, female genitalia, and crumpled bed sheets. All very fitting for the risqué tale of Don Giovanni!
The LA Philharmonic decided to stage only four performances, though I wish they could have scheduled more, as a work such as this would surely attract more of the young audience of which the institution seems to be in want. Don Giovanni is the first of three operas to be conducted by Dudamel in the LA Philharmonic's three-year Mozart/Da Ponte Trilogy.
Photos courtesy of Autumn de Wilde/Rodarte