Martha Jungwirth, Ohne Titel, 2008
Aquarell auf Papier (Kontobuchseite), 27 x 22,5 cm
Foto: Studio Weber, Klaus-Dieter Weber (Ressler Kunst Auktionen GmbH)
© Martha Jungwirth/Bildrecht, Wien 2023

‘Who I am you’ll never know.’

For Romeo Castellucci, approaching Don Giovanni means facing up to the ambiguity and complexity as well as the inner disequilibrium with which Mozart imbues his opera’s protagonist. Vitality and destruction: in this ambivalence Castellucci sees one of the fascinations of this figure. Don Giovanni doesn’t think – he acts precipitately, without drawing breath. He hurls himself about, bringing destruction in his wake while constantly evading the individuals who are hunting him down. But at the same time, during his ceaseless race he creates space and time, generates life. One could say that his fatal destiny is the result of an excess of vitality.

The old myth of Don Juan, which incorporated legends as well as religious didactic fables, underwent countless new interpretations from the beginning of the 18th century. Da Ponte and Mozart took it further, developing it into a highly nuanced work in which tragedy and comedy co-exist. Woven into the fabric of the music from the very first bar is a palpable death drive foreshadowing the final catastrophe. And when the piece is playful – ‘giocoso’ – the game that is being played is very serious indeed. Even when Mozart’s music ostensibly breathes lightness, it contains caverns that open up to expose the deepest human needs.

Don Giovanni knows neither remorse nor guilt:
in order to satisfy his desires he attacks the law, discrediting and abrogating it. It is no coincidence that his first act in the opera is the killing of a father – the Father. The Commendatore embodies the Law of the Father. Like all murdered fathers in the dramas of Western literature, he returns as a ghost – he is omnipresent.

In Castellucci’s staging, a stripped and emptied – deconsecrated – church becomes Don Giovanni’s headquarters. A neutral architecture is intermittently charged with meaning through a precise dramaturgy of appropriate and inappropriate objects falling from above, or appearing and disintegrating, or seeking a point of equilibrium. It is as if we are witnessing a child at play who is intent on destroying his toys. In this sense Don Giovanni is a pantoclastic figure, i. e. one that wants to destroy everything, a child venting his frustration at not being able to obtain the object of his desire.

The three female protagonists in the opera stand for three different emotional universes. Donna Anna is of noble lineage and embodies the hard-to-reach highest object of desire. Her language and her pain are palpable in her gestures – which are those of a tragic heroine. Donna Elvira is a figure whose voice betrays confusion and inner turbulence. She represents the family, the fabric of society. Don Giovanni is horrified when he encounters her for a second time. The thought that he might find out he is a father appals him. In his case love is something that separates, divides, cuts off, kills – not something that brings forth. And then we have the peasant girl Zerlina, the body as object of desire par excellence, an object that for Don Giovanni is there only to be possessed. He assumes that he is entitled to her, even on the day of her wedding.

Blinded by his narcissism, Don Giovanni is incapable of perceiving women as unique individuals. For Act II, Castellucci has invited a large number of women who live in Salzburg to occupy the stage of the Grosses Festspielhaus. The women are coming to reclaim their own body, a presence, a biography. The horrific list from Leporello’s catalogue manifests as an element of flesh and blood that is touching and affecting. Together with the women, the choreographer Cindy Van Acker has designed trajectories across the space, dynamics of interaction, forms of reciprocity and connectivity. The presence of these women renders visible how the field of desire gradually develops an all-absorbing, devouring power. The polarizing schema of Don Giovanni as hunter and the women as the hunted is reversed.

From a conversation between Romeo Castellucci and Piersandra Di Matteo
Translation from the Italian: Sophie Kidd

read more collapse

8. May 2024
Don Giovanni | Salzburg Festival 2024 – Teaser
12. December 2023
Don Giovanni | Salzburg Festival 2024 – Statement Romeo Castellucci
13. February 2024
Don Giovanni – Programme presentation Markus Hinterhäuser
Don Giovanni | Salzburg Festival 2024 – Teaser
Don Giovanni | Salzburg Festival 2024 – Statement Romeo Castellucci
Don Giovanni – Programme presentation Markus Hinterhäuser

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