Say this for the Brooklyn Academy of Music: When BAM does
something bad, it doesn't hold back. "Don Juan in Prague," director David
Chambers' reworking of Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni" for the Prague National
Theater, is boldly uninteresting, uncompromisingly empty and irreverent to the
point of being insulting. Chambers has not so much adapted Mozart as maladapted
This isn't purism talking. I had hoped for a more radical interpretation -
perhaps an electrified echo of the original refracted through a different
imagination. I was encouraged by the casting of Iva Bittov� as Donna Elvira,
Don Giovanni's discarded old conquest, who rematerializes as his stalker.
Bittov� is an avant-garde folk singer from the Czech Republic, with a vocal
palette that ranges from nasal wails to avian whoops and throaty rattles. She
sang the role as if in the midst of a hallucination, hurling classical phrases
like so much cheap crockery, and evoking a woman damaged by rejection. If
Chambers had truly turned the opera into Elvira's story he might have had
Instead, he filled the other roles with regular opera singers, kept the arias
and ensembles in Italian and replaced the sung recitative with spoken dialogue
in oh-so-mod American.
It took a whole team of bowdlerizers to strip Mozart's score down to its
nonessentials. Petr Kofron conducted the Agon Orchestra of Prague - a fancy
name for a meager string quintet - and stinted on coaching the singers. Matthew
Suttor fleshed out the thin texture with some "original digital composition"
and Daniel Baker provided the "sound design," all of which added up to clouds
of primitive bleeps reminiscent of electronic music, circa 1966.
The production had a compatibly retro space-age look, with groovy psychedelic
projections by Peter Flaherty and costumes by Irina Kruzhilina that might have
been put together from Liberace castoffs, wire hangers, "Star Trek" shoulder
pads and a streetwalker's vinyl boots.
Shorn of all subtlety, Mozart's score gave scant support to a capable cast of
singers who must have been furious with themselves for accepting this gig.
Christopher Schaldenbrand is a talented baritone with enough experience to have
explored Don Giovanni's creepy and volatile mixture of predator, sensual
philosopher and irresistible rogue. But under Chambers' direction, he played
the role as a street thug, with rat-like grimace, jerky movements and a
possible addiction to crystal meth. Symptoms substituted for personality,
mannerisms for motivations.
The concept made it impossible for the singers to phrase with anything
approaching grace. Matt Boehler might make a quality Leporello under other
circumstances; here he rasped and barked. The only member of the cast to escape
the director's unmusical ministrations was Lisa Hopkins, who, as Donna Anna,
managed to ignore the squeezebox screeches coming from the pit and speakers and
deliver a sensitive lament.
DON JUAN IN PRAGUE. Adapted and directed by David Chambers from Mozart's "Don
Giovanni." Attended at Wednesday's opening. Brooklyn Academy of Music Harvey
Theater. Repeated tonight and tomorrow. For tickets and information, call
718-636-4100 or go to bam.org.