Don Giovanni, one of Mozart’s most loved operas, tells the tale of a dissolute rake who finally gets his come-uppance. Or, perhaps a better description would be that he is sent down. During the course of the opera he attempts to seduce several women, and his servant Leporello has a list of almost two thousand more seductions from Europe and Turkey. Mozart’s music and Da Ponte’s libretto make him an attractive cad, yet he treats all women as objects of lust. That this sort of fellow still exists, although very socially undesirable, gives universality to the story. He is also a murderer. In the end, stubbornly refusing to repent, he is damned for eternity.

Sophie Mitterhuber (Zerlina, different cast) and Mathias Hausmann (Don Giovanni) © Thomas Dashuber
Sophie Mitterhuber (Zerlina, different cast) and Mathias Hausmann (Don Giovanni)
© Thomas Dashuber

Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz production of Don Giovanni is being performed in the elaborate Cuvilliés-Theater in Munich’s old Residence buildings. It is slick, fast-moving and absorbing. The basic set, with three wedges of double-sided double doors, didn’t change but did revolve. A mist floated over the set accompanying the solemnity of the bass notes of the overture, which was all very underworldly. The singing and acting was impressive, with a few surprise twists before the night was out.

Matija Meić, with laptop and glasses ensuring a nerdy look, and more a baritone than a bass, brought strong, commanding power to his role as Leporello. From his opening “Notte e giorno faticar”, performed while slumped and smoking against the wall and waiting for Giovanni, I could sense he had the goods. Sitting with Donna Elvira on her suitcases, with clever phrasing, he detailed his list of over two thousand of Don Giovanni’s conquests, her three little maids amused as they checked his data and drank Don Giovanni’s whisky, while photos of the victims were projected on surrounding walls – quite an effective touch.

Nadja Stefanoff (Elvira), Gunter Papendell (Giovanni, different cast), Sophia Brommer (Anna) © Christian Pogo Zach
Nadja Stefanoff (Elvira), Gunter Papendell (Giovanni, different cast), Sophia Brommer (Anna)
© Christian Pogo Zach

Nadja Stefanoff made a striking Donna Elvira, the one person in this opera I felt sorry for. She has been smitten by Giovanni and can’t get over him. He repeatedly rejected her, then Leporello – whom she thought was Giovanni – seduced her into intimacy, then she was humiliated by defending the wrong person. In the end, the only option she could find was to enter a convent (heaven help the other nuns). Stefanoff’s richness of voice constantly impressed. Her opening “Ah, chi mi dice mai” while searching for Giovanni, her “Ah! Fuggi il traditor!” when rescuing Zerlina, and most strikingly, her final begging of Giovanni to change his ways, were all inspiring, with full throated richness and strong, persuasive tone.

Masetto (Christoph Filler) and Zerlina (Mária Celeng) made a lovely young couple, Masetto very jealous and Zerlina too trusting. As she and Giovanni commence the famous “Là ci darem la mano” they were apart, and as they sang they got closer, touched, sang together and kissed – a powerful depiction of his power to persuade. But it was the intimacy of their singing that impressed most. Intimate again was the bed of rose petals that Giovanni seduced her to, only as they fell back in a swooning embrace, to fall onto Elvira, unseen under the petals.

Nadja Stefanoff (Donna Elvira), Maria Celeng (Zerlina), Matija Meić(Leporello) and chorus © Thomas Dashuber
Nadja Stefanoff (Donna Elvira), Maria Celeng (Zerlina), Matija Meić(Leporello) and chorus
© Thomas Dashuber

Sophia Brommer, an impressive Donna Anna, held me captive with her impassioned telling of the events on the night her father was killed, full of lovely, sweet grieving. After she exited, Szabolcs Brickner – her fiancé Don Ottavio – expressed his intention to ascertain the truth in such a sensitive, calm voice, from thence to either undeceive or avenge her. Stand out was Austrian Mathias Hausmann, who sang the title role. He was masterful: a rich, full voiced baritone with a commanding stage presence, able to act convincingly, and physically impressive as a rake. He was a woman magnet. Donna Anna, Zerlina, the embarrassing Donna Elvira and her three maids all seemed to become putty in his hands. His voice was pleasant and powerful, his command seemed absolute. Only Masetto was unmoved by his guile (maybe one who was more mature than his age).

This production adapted the conclusion. Rather than the Commendatore condemning Giovanni to eternal perdition it was the Lord himself (with the Commendatore’s deep bass voice). Over the Commendatore’s house hung a crucifix, which Don Giovanni then carried to his home. It had become a Pietà-like statue of Christ by the time he placed it over his chair, spoke to it and sat on it, and whose hand he clutched to receive a jolt that visibly terrified him. Yet he would not repent. There was no way out. Unexpectedly he pulled a gun and shot himself through the mouth, to gasps of shock and horror in the audience around me. A flash of light to blind us and he was gone. 

The six soloists then thrillingly vied with each other in a magnificent paean, detailing their futures and proclaiming the consequences of an evil life. And suddenly the opera had finished – a dramatic ending to an exciting Don Giovanni. 

***11