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SALZBURG, Austria — Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni" was first performed at the

Salzburg Festival in 1922, two years after the festival began. In the pit was that great
Mozart lover and exponent Richard Strauss. And the stage director was a man named
Hans Breuer.

This year, the stage director is Claus Guth, a German. And he is undisputed boss, as
directors tend to be on this continent.

I will describe a little of his first act — and I do mean his, not Mozart's or that of his
librettist, Da Ponte. The action takes place in the woods. Don Giovanni and Leporello
appear to be camping. (Usually, opera involves a different kind of camping.) The woods
go round and round on one of those big lazy Susans.

Donna Anna is not only not a victim of Don Giovanni's; she is a sexual aggressor. This is
par for the course in productions these days, rendering much of the libretto nonsensical.

Before he dies, the Commendatore shoots Don Giovanni (if I saw correctly), wounding
him. Leporello dresses his wound and shoots him up with something. Over the prostrate
Commendatore, Don Ottavio calls for help on his cell phone.

In due course, a bus stop — or something — shows up in the middle of the woods. Donna
Elvira is waiting in it. On the wall is what passes for Don Giovanni's "catalog," or his little
black book. Sometime later, Don Ottavio and Donna Anna are driving around in a car in
these woods. The car breaks down. As Ottavio sings "Dalla sua pace," Giovanni and Anna
make out (or something) in the car.

And so on, and so on.

Look, it's worse than it sounds. The director has wrested the opera from the singers, the
conductor, and the orchestra, not to mention the composer and the librettist. Almost
nothing matches — right down to small details. For example, at the ball — which in this
production is in the middle of those woods — Mr. Guth's people dance in a stupid, sloppy
modern way. Yet Mozart has written 18th-century dance music.

Shouldn't a production match the opera it is supposed to serve?

"Don Giovanni" is, in many respects, a cruel and ugly opera. We would not want it
prettied up. But Mr. Guth goes very, very far in his crudeness. Mozart and Da Ponte are
sly, suggestive, subtle, sophisticated. So many directors who deal with their product are
not. Mr. Guth goes in for endless copulation, crotch-grabbing, and the like. Great, great.

The singers are rather incidental in a show like this, but Salzburg has one of the best in
the world: Dorothea Röschmann, the German soprano. As Donna Elvira on Saturday
night, she was simply perfect — a model singer, and a model musician. She could be an
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf of our time, here at the Salzburg Festival — appearing in one
Mozart opera after another, and singing lieder recitals.

But she had the misfortune to be born in the wrong age — so she has to tramp through
Mr. Guth's woods, wearing high heels. What an injustice to a great artist.

Matthew Polenzani, Chicago's own, was Don Ottavio, and sang like a dream. This is a
shining age for Mozart tenors, if for Mr. Polenzani and Michael Schade alone. (Mr.
Schade is here too.) Don Giovanni was Christopher Maltman, the British baritone, who
had his shirt off so much, I thought he was Nathan Gunn. He sang adequately, as did his
Leporello, Erwin Schrott, the Uruguayan bass best known (at the moment) for being the
offstage partner of Anna Netrebko.

Donna Anna was Svetlana Doneva, a Bulgarian soprano. Actually, this is only partly true.
Let me explain. Prior to the performance, the scheduled Anna, Annette Dasch, got sick.
And there was apparently no understudy. So Ms. Doneva sang Donna Anna at the side of
the stage, wearing a concert gown and using a music stand. Meanwhile, a woman named
Eva-Maria Höckmayr — a very hot tamale — was acting the part.

Ms. Doneva sang sweetly and sensitively, and she also showed some cutting pathos, in
"Or sai chi l'onore."

The conductor, Frenchman Bertrand de Billy, leading a rump of the Vienna


Philharmonic, had a poor overture — careless, unmusical — but performed competently
thereafter.

Year after year, people at the festival say to me what a woman said just the other
afternoon: "New York audiences aren't open to new productions and new ideas." Could
be. Or it could be that they're simply undesirous of bad and destructive productions. It
could be — can you imagine? — that they have taste and standards.

Many people hope for the Europeanization of the New York houses, rolling their eyes at
what they consider our square, fuddy-duddy stages. Some of those people are in a
position to effect such a transformation. The next few seasons will be instructive.

Please note that Mr. Guth (or someone) has cut portions of "Don Giovanni," such as Don
Ottavio's second aria. But the harm he has done does not lie in these cuts.

His production takes place in Salzburg's new Haus für Mozart (House for Mozart). At the rate
they're going, they might as well call it the Haus für Guth — or whoever the director du jour
is.