Il Teatro Buce enjoyed a viewing last night of the Zurich Don Giovanni with Simon Keenlyside. It's a so-so offering--one of those weirdly unmotivated settings (here, 50s nightclub) that the Germans seem to love so much; passable singing; a highly skilled orchestra with perhaps unsubtle direction. Keenlyside himself enters shirtless and I would have loved to have seen the auditions for that one ("All right, Simon, now show us your tits!").
Keenlyside strikes me on the whole a pretty good singer but perhaps a better actor than singer and in any event, not to the kind of guy who is going to dominate the stage with his sexual magnetism. The corollary is that this is a Don Giovanni with a minimum of Don.
Which leads to a surprising insight. That is: not compelled to focus on the ol' predator himself, you pay more attention to those around him: the three women whom he seduces and the two cuckoded lovers as well as (of course) his servant Leporello and Mr. D-minor-and-its-dominant, the Commendatore. You come to see, in due course, that there's a reason for three different women; you see how the Don disrupts their lives in three different ways. And the men, too: in particular Piotr Beczala as Don Ottavio, who finally had a chance to get some attention, as the disappointed competitor--earnest, loyal, affectionate in his way, but a guy whom you just know is going to be home alone by 10 o'clock, refiling his collection of National Geographics.
Which prompted Mrs. Buce to say: you know, this isn't even about the Don. He's just there to disrupt the lives of other people. He's there at the beginning as the unapologetic seducer, still not apologizing at the end as he goes straight off to hell. We see how other people are shattered and the end changed by his misbehavior. The Don himself remains the Maguffin. I haven't the slightest idea how much this might have been Mozart's intention, or Da Ponte's. It certainly can't be the only correct reading of the Don's story, but it certainly is a good one.
On another topic: Socrates raised the question whether the same playwright can do comedy and tragedy. I heard somebody remark lately that Shakespeare's Hamlet may not be a comedy but that it surely is the funniest of the tragedies. So perhaps also Don Giovanni. It's sometimes a puzzle how to get laughs out of such a serious business. And maybe that is exactly the point.