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This afternoon Mrs. Robbo and I hired a pair of kayaks and took to the Potomac, where we sported on the flood and even tried our hands at a little gentle whitewater. (This was above the fall line at Great Falls and the river is strewn with submerged and semi-submerged boulders.)

I must say that for a woman who until a couple weeks ago had never had a paddle in her hands, Mrs. Robbo has displayed a real gift for this kind of boating – her handling of currents and the like seems to come quite naturally.

In keeping with her newfound talent, I am thinking that the next time we go out, it may be time to introduce Mrs. R to what I shall assure her is absolutely de rigueur in ladies’ kayak/canoe apparel:

Yes, I can readily see Mrs. R in that headdress.  Tres chic. Mmmm, Mmmmm.

Jay Nordlinger reports in on the Salzburg Festival’s current production of Don Giovanni:

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.

Great, indeed.

I don’t much care for opera in general.  However, I am a great admirer of the Mozart-Da Ponte collaborations (which include – along with Don Giovanni – Le Nozzi di Figaro and Cosi fan Tutte)  and, if pressed, would argue that although no reasonable choice could be made among them in terms of straight musickal quality,  Don Giovanni is probably the greatest of the three in terms of the depth of story and character development in the libretto and musick.  As Jay points out, Mozart and Da Ponte are sly, suggestive, subtle and sophisticated.  One can spend endless happy hours picking apart their treatment.  Indeed, the opera is so rich that when a senior in college, I pitched to my Department Head the idea of doing a thesis on the place of Don Giovanni in the development of the Don Juan literary tradition.  (Alas, there were so many English majors at my school that the Dept. had set up extremely rigorous requirements in order even to be allowed to do a senior thesis and I did not make the grade, so the idea never went anywhere.)  

 Now it is very true that we do not live in a sophisticated age, and I have seen plenty of productions of Don Giovanni that roll right over Mozart and Da Ponte’s finer points without apparently even noticing them.  But  productions like Herr Guth’s seem to me to go beyond that.  Among the fashionable “elite”, they are seen as “new” and “challenging” and – therefore – “beneficial” in opening the eyes and minds of us Sticks-In-The-Mud.  However, I see them instead as deliberate, vulgar repudiation of the merit of the original, mere artistic nihilism designed to bait, bully or berate their audiences and, of course, focus all attention not on the production itself but on the producer. 

Any parent of a two-year-old immediately recognizes this kind of behavior.  And while it is acceptable (or perhaps unavoidable) in a toddler, I see no reason why it should be tolerated in adults, and especially in those in charge of what are supposed to be the emblems of the finest achievements of the culchah.  Herr Guth and his ilk ought to be hissed off the stage.

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth Field, fought in 1485, in which Richard III was defeated and killed by the forces of the soon-to-be Henry VII.  The battle represented the final stroke of the War of the Roses and, with the death of Richard, the end of the Plantagenet line.

There are those (including our own Maximum Leader) who maintain that Richard has been treated very poorly by history; that he was not, in fact, the hideous monster portrayed by that Tudor boot-licker Shakespeare, but instead the good and rightful King of England who was unjustly usurped and murdered by an interloping Welshman.  Indeed, one can find a whole host of sites around the Intertubes like this one devoted to refurbishing Richard’s memory  and doing away with History’s libels against him.

Well, Gentlemen, don’t let me stand in your way: Please carry on.  And while you’re at it, could you put in a kind word for Macbeth (victim of the subsequently Stuart boot-licking Bard) and Wicked King John?

In the meantime, let’s have a little bit of ol’ Larry serving up Richard in all his glorious malevolence:


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August 2008