Wanna get an idea of what a summer blockbuster looked like in Mozart’s day? Look no further than Don Giovanni, the composer’s rip-roaring comic libretto that follows the exploits of an arrogant aristocrat whose love for wine and ladies ultimately gets him dragged down to hell by a vengeful ghost. The final scene is a Michael Bay-style epic, which captivated even this blogger as a young child (we used to reenact it in the living room).
Basically, it’s really tough not to love Don Giovanni. So it was with bated breath that fans gathered at Walt Disney Concert Hall last month to watch the LA Philharmonic’s new staging, with costumes by Rodarte and sets designed by Frank Gehry (who built Disney Hall back in 2003).
Their take on the 225-year-old opera is incredibly modern, with a sparse black-and-white palette and amazing, bizarre costumes. Rodarte, the team of sisters known for their ephemeral gowns, obviously had fun bringing the baroque characters into the 21st century. It’s hard not to think of Lady Gaga when you see the platinum-tressed Donna Anna, or to think of Alien when you see the Commedatore’s crumpled metallic “armor.” There are gowns printed with veins of white marble, riot cop-inspired body armor, and a great lavender wig.
Don Giovanni loves women, and during the opera we learn that he keeps a catalogue of his sexual conquests (he bedded more than a thousand ladies in Spain, for example). For the set design, Gehry has crumpled the pages of Don Giovanni’s sex book into a white backdrop, dividing the orchestra from the singers. Four huge white cubes let singers rise above the stage during solos, while others cower behind them in disgrace. It’s a simple set, and with all of Rodarte’s detail and drama, it makes sense. According to Architect’s Newspaper, the crumpled paper backdrop was made from 80 rolls of nine-foot-wide white paper, and the architect commented that the final product “did not look like the model at all.”
It’s interesting to see Don Giovanni’s rococo storyline cast in this futuristic, icy light–but there’s also a sense of sameness to the scenes (The Observer comments that it looks quite a lot like Gehry’s Simpsons cameo), and we’re left to wonder what Don Giovanni could have looked like through the eyes of other architects. And we’re in luck: the LA Phil has already commissioned Jean Nouvel and Zaha Hadid to rethink other Mozart operas in 2013.