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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

2012: Don Giovanni, A Space Odyssey

While I was busy relaxing in the hammock over Memorial Day Weekend in Augusta, GA, my talented friend Jessica Robin Trent went "on assignment" to see the Los Angeles Philharmonic's opera performance of Don Giovanni.  Enjoy!

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Brooks
The unique collaboration between director Christopher Alden, Disney Hall architect Frank Gehry’s installation, and Rodarte’s costumes, along with the youthful energy of conductor Gustavo Dudamel, formed a very modern, abstract, provocative and decidedly Los Angeles creation of the classic tale of Don GiovanniThe LA Philharmonic decided to stage only four performances, though I wish they could have scheduled more, as this magnificent creation would surely attract the young audience of which the institution seems to be in want.  In its 93rd season, and with Dudamel on a multi-year contract, the LA Philharmonic is certainly redefining the orchestral experience.

With sweet Sutton bowing out of the performance in favor of going home to Augusta for Memorial Day weekend, I was lucky enough to be a guest in her absence, and was in the delightful company of wonderful women: Kimberly Brooks, artist and founder of the Huffington Post’s art section; and Dr. Charlotte Eyerman, American Director of FRAME (French American Museum Exchange) and independent curator.

The men’s costumes seemed very Star Wars meets minimalist motocross inspired. In other words, very LA. Instead of armor, our Don Giovanni 2012 gentlemen  wore chest and shoulder pieces resembling motocross protective gear, and simple white shoe boots that strapped up around their thighs. Their pants were very sporty: all one color with multiple zippers (white for everyone except the Commendatore, who was in head to toe black).

The collaborative efforts framed by the simple and modular installation, placed Don Giovanni in the vein of a performance art piece as much as it was opera. Composed in 1787 by Mozart with the libretto written the same year by Lorenzo da Ponte, Don Giovanni is certainly a timeless tale, especially when experienced in this version.  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, 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 dear 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 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 I adored watching him.

“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 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) Her voice echoed from 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 perfectly her lilac colored wig by Odile Gilbert. 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 fiancĂ©, Bass-Baritone Ryan Kuster (Masetto) had an incredible chemistry! The very slow-motioned intimate moments between them left our group feeling like voyeurs. Their movements also reminded me of the very slow and beautiful choreography of Tino Sehgal’s “The Kiss” at the Guggenheim. (Kimberly Brooks and I whispered to each other “hot!” as the couple caressed ever so slowly and deliberately.)

Baritone Mariusz Kwiecien as Don Giovanni was the perfectly strong, self-absorbed macho man. In a very overt racy moment, he moved his hand very slowly beneath Donna Elvira’s skirt, up to her thigh, removed his hand and moved it slowly again down his face, opening his fingers at his open mouth. At at that moment, the entire audience loudly gasped, though I am rather sure I may have gasped the loudest. It was quite shocking!

As for the much talked about set design and costumes. I absolutely loved both. There was a sci-fi feel in both. Gehry’s installation reminded me of a deconstructed Kubrick set in the minimal style of 2001: A Space Odyssey meets the starkness of Star Wars scenes filmed in the deserts of Tunisia. The cast interacted very much with the paper sculptures, caressing them and hiding their faces, sometimes their entire bodies, underneath the many folds. The ladies and I discussed the mounds of folded paper to be representative of a woman’s skirting, crumpled bed sheets, and labia. All very fitting for the racy tale of Don Giovanni!.

Jessica Robin Trent
Additional Photos courtesy of Autumn de Wilde/Rodarte


Sutton Stracke said...

Need to add that Ms. Trent is a Virginia native, so the southern voice continues... Us Southern Belles may just take over the world!!

Jessica said...


Jessica said...