In this Gounod bicentennial year, it is timely to recall the pious Parisian’s opinion of Don Giovanni: “a work without blemish, of uninterrupted perfection”. Whilst Mozart’s masterwork is indisputably imperishable, not all productions are so peerless. But compared to Krzysztof Warlikowski’s X-rated sextravaganza in Brussels and Calixto Bieito’s proto-pornographic panto in Barcelona, Jean-Louis Martinoty’s mise-en-scène for the Wiener Staatsoper is almost tamely traditional.

Ludovic Tézier (Don Giovanni) and Ekaterina Siurina (Donna Anna)
© Wiener Staatsoper | Michael Pöhn

Martinoty has a number of original ideas such as Giovanni’s lavish supper being transported to the Commendatore’s tomb – a kind of “Meals-on-Wheels” Glyndebourne picnic for the dearly departed. Giovanni has no qualms about having a threesome with two serving wenches in front of the Commendatore’s statue, giving a non-nutrient twist to Leporello’s observation “che barbaro appetito!” The dining table becomes a garbage chute-type slide to hell as it is upended by the Commendatore to send the incorrigible ne’er-do-well to his fiery demise. Arriving at the Supper Scene, Donna Elvira has already taken religious orders – which doesn’t deter Giovanni from attempting a final fornication. Curiously, Act 1 ends with Giovanni remaining nonchalantly on stage rather than slyly sneaking away from his aristocratic lynch mob.

Martinoty’s production was first seen in 2010, but there was a freshness about this performance due to six of the eight principals making their house debuts. Ensemble sections were impressive, the sextets particularly strong. Of the familiar interpreters, Moldovan soprano Valentina Naforniţă was a vocally assured and visually ideal Zerlina. “Batti, batti” was memorable for its gentle lyricism, abetted  by a sensuous cello obbligato. “Vedrai, carino” was similarly mellifluous although Sascha Goetzel’s sluggish tempo made the phrasing somewhat laboured. The aria is marked grazioso, not grave

Valentina Naforniţă (Zerlina)
© Wiener Staatsoper | Michael Pöhn

Sporting a flashy white suit more appropriate to a spivvy Mafioso than a guileless yokel, Clemens Unterreiner was a macho Masetto not averse to a bit of philandering himself at the wedding banquet, his voice adequate for the role. Although statuesque in appearance, there was no resonance or projection to Dan Paul Dumitrescu's lower register as the Commendatore.

Jinxu Xiahou was dramatically stolid but vocally appealing as a traditionally mono-dimensional Don Ottavio. “Il mio tesoro” was more successful than “Dalla sua pace” with excellent legato and evenly sustained F naturals. Annette Dasch’s impressive repertoire ranges from Armida to Elsa but on this occasion, her Donna Elvira was noticeably uneven with a slightly metallic edge. “Mi tradi” worked better than “Ah! chi mi dice mai” and the quaver runs were even, if not virtuosic. Luca Pisaroni is the current Leporello du jour and clearly identifies strongly with the role. His characterisation tends to be more goofy than phlegmatic, and his hilarity when Giovanni suggests a recent conquest could have been Leporello’s own wife is hardly plausible. The voice is stronger in the upper register but “Perdon, perdono” revealed an impressive depth.

Luca Pisaroni (Leporello)
© Wiener Staatsoper | Michael Pöhn

Donna Anna is no role for the fainthearted and although diminutive in stature, Ekaterina Siurina brought dignity and formidable vocal prowess to the part. There was slight hesitation in “Or sai chi l'onore” but “Non mi dir” was refulgent with a beautifully pitched piano B flat fermata on “abbastanza” and pristine semiquaver roulades. 

Ludovic Tézier scored a singular success at the Staatsoper last year in Il trovatore and obviously possesses a solid vocal technique with a warm, rounded timbre, yet somehow his characterisation of the unrepentant libertine failed to convince. This Giovanni lacked the psychosexual malevolence which made Ruggiero Raimondi’s interpretation, for example, so chillingly memorable. Tézier was more a crass thug with a healthy libido. This lack of gravitas was not helped by a flamboyant white silken costume in the ballroom scene which could have come from Liberace’s closet.

Ludovic Tézier (Don Giovanni) and Luca Pisaroni (Leporello)
© Wiener Staatsoper | Michael Pöhn

Goetzel directed the Staatsoper orchestra with almost excessive deference to the singers in a reading where any tempo not marked Allegro was closer to Lento.  “Là ci darem la mano” was more soporific than seductive. Admittedly the instrumental accompaniment to “Dalla sua pace” is marked piano, but in this case, the orchestra was barely audible. It was only in the final scene that Goetzel unleashed the full forces of the Viennese musicians and there was some wonderful playing from trombones and horns. The hammerklavier continuo was inventive and cheeky and the short eerily amplified demons’ chorus truly scary.

Whilst not exactly an evening of “uninterrupted perfection”, this Giovanni was nevertheless a strong ensemble performance with mercifully minimal directional distractions.