Opera directors seem to like nothing more than probing the psychological depths and Kirkegaardian moral implications of Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Sven-Eric Bechtolf is no exception. His latest addition to the formidable list of Salzburg Festival productions of  Mozart’s magnum opus was first seen in 2014. Bechtolf has some interesting ideas in a contemporary milieu, although there is basically only one dramaturgical leitmotiv: sex. The single stage setting by Rolf Glittenberg is a chic art-deco foyer/lobby bar of what is presumably the Giovanni Hilton. It is also a maison de passe with a number of rooms on a mezzanine level available for casual assignations.  

Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (Don Giovanni) and Valentina Naforniţă (Zerlina) © Salzburger Festspiele | Ruth Walz
Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (Don Giovanni) and Valentina Naforniţă (Zerlina)
© Salzburger Festspiele | Ruth Walz

Sex proliferates in this production and not just for the famous titular fornicator. An exceptionally sexy Zerlina and hunky Masetto strip off then scoot up to one of the rooms after “Vedrai, carino” for a bit of “che bel rimedio”. The usual chorus of peasants and forelock-tugging vassals are transformed into smart hotel staff, priapic waiters and sexually harassed chambermaids. As a kind of private porn collecting paparazzo, Leporello keeps photo albums with happy snaps of Giovanni’s conquests which he voyeuristically displays in the catalogue aria. “La piccina è ognor vezzosa” and “Sua passion predominante è la giovin principiante” take on a portentous new meaning when the photos suggest that Giovanni is not averse to a bit of paedophilia as well. This causes the already deeply shocked Donna Elvira to vomit in the corner.

Although most of the directional concepts were successful, the dénouement was problematic. Instead of disappearing into the usual flames of hell, Giovanni lies on the floor for a while, then gets up to scamper around like a Puckish poltergeist and pursue a comely chambermaid into one of the bedrooms. This hardly makes sense of the moral in the concluding sextet.

Carmela Remigio (Donna Anna) and Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (Don Giovanni) © Salzburger Festspiele | Ruth Walz
Carmela Remigio (Donna Anna) and Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (Don Giovanni)
© Salzburger Festspiele | Ruth Walz
Making his Salzburg debut on the podium, Alain Altinoglu led the Vienna Philharmonic in an energetic and brisk reading which emphasized the rhythmic strengths of the work without sacrificing orchestral delicacy or tone colour. The strings were as wonderful as ever and there was some sensitive wind playing. The brass were suitably potent and ominous.

For the most part the singing was above average however the Commendatore of Alain Coulombe was disappointing. His dramatic commitment to the role was perfunctory and the voice lacked resonance and projection. Carmela Remigio’s Donna Anna was similarly dispiriting, her projection tentative. The fioratura in “Non mir dir” was accurate enough and certainly better than the rather tepid “Or sai chi l'onore”. There was also a slightly matronly aspect to her characterization which made Don Ottavio a bit of a boytoy.

Since his overtly sexy Silvio in Philipp Stölzl’s Pagliacci last year, Alessio Arduini seems fated to take his shirt off in Salzburg productions. This dapper Masetto was much more night-clubbing stud than boorish yokel. Whilst Arduini's voice is not especially large, it has an agreeably round light colour reminiscent of Håkan Hagegård. Boyish Italian tenor Paolo Fanale gave a consistently pleasing performance as Don Ottavio, with forward clean projection. Excellent breath control with refined legato phrasing in both arias made the part much more sympathetic than usual. Canadian soprano Layla Claire as Donna Elvira displayed an arresting stage presence coupled with a solid vocal technique.  There was real fury in the B flats in “Ah, chi mi dice mai” and smoothly executed roulades in “Mi tradì”. The proceeding accompanied recitative was particularly moving.

Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (Don Giovanni) and Luca Pisaroni (Leporello) © Salzburger Festspiele | Ruth Walz
Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (Don Giovanni) and Luca Pisaroni (Leporello)
© Salzburger Festspiele | Ruth Walz

Luca Pisaroni has established himself as one of the most sought-after Leporellos in recent years. In this production he is a David Schwimmer-ish goofy guy who is hanging around for free booze and Giovanni’s leftovers – in all senses of the word. An excellent top register and convincing acting made for an engaging performance. Similarly ubiquitous in the title role, Ildebrando D'Arcangelo gave a more than satisfactory account, although the characterisation was almost too affable to warrant Giovanni’s ultimate fate, lacking pure evil or cynical opportunism. His Giovanni was just one of the local lads with an intractable libido. The voice is much stronger in the top register and “Finch'han dal vino” galloped along at a giddy pace.

It is rare for Zerlina to be the highlight of Don Giovanni, but such was the case. Moldovan soprano Valentina Naforniţă has the soubrette charm of Graziella Sciutti with the vocal panache of Lucia Popp. A fabulous stage presence, flawless vocal technique and pristine vibrato-less colour made this Zerlina an absolute joy. Viva Zerlina and la libertà!