Mozart’s Don Giovanni is thrilling to experience as originally intended, but its portrayal by marionettes is something else altogether.
Certainly the opera Don Giovanni is one of the most exquisite works imaginable, so satisfying musically and dramatically that it fulfills every wish. It is put together so perfectly — in a way that feels inevitable, as with all artistic masterpieces — that one does not want anything removed, nor is there a need to have anything added to it. Listening to it or attending a performance, even when some aspect of the execution leaves something to be desired, is enough to make one overjoyed to exist and able to take it in.
Marionettes add another dimension to Don Giovanni
The art of the marionette has a particularly venerable, rich history in what is now the Czech Republic. This was a form of theatre in which I felt especially interested when making plans to visit Prague some years ago. As the age of the Internet had not yet dawned, the hints of what was to come were quite a bit less vivid than what can be seen and heard so readily now. Just a glance at this site, for example, with its detailed and extensive photographs, would have raised my expectations from supposing I would be entertained to realizing I would be enthralled. All the greater the surprise, therefore, was it to receive double inspiration: the puppetry was so magnificent and convincing that Don Giovanni appeared to gain an additional layer of meaning. Such skillful cuts in the music as to cause all to be forgiven on that score; the sight of such life-like characters truly appearing to sing and act; a glimpse of the human hands manipulating (as it is called in puppetry) the most finely-scaled of movements and preparing several steps in advance; those “manipulators” working in tandem or larger groups to make every gesture come alive — all this enriched the already complete Don Giovanni to an extent of which I could not have dreamt.
It really must be seen and heard to be believed. The ill-gotten excerpts available do not do justice to this astounding production by the National Marionette Theatre in Prague. The manipulating hands have to be in view for the full sensation of this Don Giovanni, and they are not visible in these short snippets. I have been hoping for years that a commercial DVD would be made and even tried badgering a few recording business contacts to take up the cause. So far, no luck, but I continue to hope — and meanwhile, besides all the other reasons to visit Prague, this should perhaps head the list.