The opening scene of Pier Luigi Pizzi’s Sferisterio Opera Festival production of “Don Giovanni” is barely two minutes old before the viewer immediately knows that this is not your grandfather’s Mozart: Ildebrando D’Arcangelo’s Don Giovanni admires his buff, shirtless torso and sneaks in a few push-ups before engaging in ribald horseplay with his valet Leporello. And from there, “Don Giovanni” places a heavy emphasis on eroticizing the actions of its libertine anti-hero, with fondling and caressing and even some obvious bisexual play that sometimes makes this seem like the production will veer into R-rated territory.
While some opera purists may not approve of these bawdy changes, this excessive focus on the crassly carnal appetite of the title character forces a bold and modern consideration of the classic 18th century opera. D’Arcangelo is the fuel in this machine, and the raw physicality that he brings to the role is a sight to behold. His brute force of physical and emotional personality creates a fascinating work of animal magnetism as his reckless character seduces and abandons (and, when necessary, murders) his unsuspecting victims. Supporting his ribald reign is Andrea Concetti’s Leporello, baring it all (literally) for his own erotically charged consideration to the proceedings. Pizzi’s staging is stark, with D’Arcangelo’s red suit standing out like satanic tailoring, while an unmade bed returns continuously as a central prop amid the amorous aristocrat’s misadventures.
It is a fascinating experiment that pays off with unexpected results, breathing contemporary vitality into a very old favorite. And for those who have never seen an opera and are curious about the genre, this DVD offers a wonderfully surprising introduction.