Parsifal in Bayreuth. Falstaff at La Scala. To the suggestible, an operatic masterpiece revived in the space where it premiered takes on an aura it possesses nowhere else. Within the Mozart canon, a single title may be experienced this way. Of all the opera houses the composer worked in, only the Estates Theatre in Prague, inaugurated in 1783, survives as he knew it. And it was there, on October 29, 1787, that the public first thrilled to Don Giovanni, his demonic dramedy of a serial seducer, his scrapes, and the dinner guest of stone who drags him to hell.
On April 24 of this year, the Estates witnessed its latest iteration of the work as mounted by the Czech National Opera for home viewing. To open, the camera pans from the chandelier down past five Neoclassical horseshoes to an orchestra just 16 seats across—a prelude to make the heart sing. Film historians will recognize the picturesque premises from Milos Forman’s Amadeus, splashy winner of the Oscar for Best Picture of 1984.
What follows is a rough-and-ready romp, haphazard in direction, casually retro in design, cinematic in flow. A three-headed Scandinavian creative team has hung the stage with lots of drapery, ransacked stock for hand-me-downs (I’m guessing), and left the singers largely to their own devices.
Pavol Kubáň hits his marks in the title role, heading an all-Czech cast of questionable international potential. The German maestro Karsten Januschke drives his forces hard. It would have been bold of him to play the original Prague version of the score, which we often read about but never hear. More quixotically, he might have opted for the score as Mozart revised it for Vienna, another blue-moon special. Instead, he picks and chooses at random from the variorum, to no apparent purpose.
Yet Mozart’s phantom sprinkles its pixie dust. Since this Don Giovanni went live, north of 35,000 online viewers have checked it out, clocking more than 800 thumbs up to just 32 thumbs down. Some 80 comments in at least nine languages mostly praise it to the skies. Vox populi, vox Dei.
Don Giovanni is available for streaming on The Opera Vision Web site through December 18
Matthew Gurewitsch writes about opera and classical music for AIR MAIL. He lives in Hawaii