[Taking out the trash? Also the precise moment Zerlina considers option B (or rather, option E). – Myrtò Papatanasiu (Donna Elvira), Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (Don Giovanni) and Emily Fons (Zerlina) in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”, San Diego 2015.]
When we liveblogged the 1999 Vienna “Don Giovanni”, the only redeeming element about its costumes (candyfloss and spaniels, anyone?) were the commedia dell’arte elements used for Leporello and Donna Elvira, turning them into a Zanni and an Innamorata respectively. That meant Donna Elvria in pants, which makes a startling lot of sense, given the history of the myth prior to Mozart and da Ponte.
A classic commedia dell’arte plot (both in Italian and Spanish tradition) is the abandoned young woman who dons male clothes to chase after her lost lover and save or reconquer him. Does that sound a lot like Donna Elvira to anyone?
Both the de Simone 1999 for Vienna Staatsoper and the Muni 2015 for San Diego Opera make use of this pattern (it is a coincidence that I watched them/excerpts of them back-to-back this summer), resulting in both cases in an enriched portrayal of Elvira (Anna Cateria Antonacci and Papatanasiu, respectively – both on the singer-actress side of the spectrum). The commedia background gives Elvira a framework to draw from that is not focused on the post-Enlightenment sentimental female lover prevalent in the majority of 20th century stagings of “Don Giovanni”, but marks her instead as someone who is taking risks, defies convention and actively chooses to pursue her own happy ending.
Of course in the commedia setting, the Innamorata marries her recovered lover in the end
(who is almost always a man. Though there is at least one scenario where a woman gets magically transformed into a man in the end, so her female love interest can marry her. Early Modern problem-solving was so practical at times.)
In “Don Giovanni”, Elvira chooses to enter a convent
(so… a quiet place with a library, music and female companionship. See how I am trying to keep a straight face here. See how I am failing.). In my personal version for the set-up pictured above, Elvira would run off with Zerlina and found a vigilante duo avenging the issues of women scorned. Marriage optional.
[Elvira to the rescue: cutting in to save the damsel in distress! – Myrtò Papatanasiu (Donna Elvira), Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (Don Giovanni) and Emily Fons (Zerlina) in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”, San Diego 2015.]
The Innamorata in pants crosses several discourses: her gender-reversed clothing does signal her leaving the female-assigned sphere of the home and going on the road instead: a switch from passivity to activity. It also casts a light on the gendered perception of space when it comes to traveling: male clothes were more practial, male garb a protection from assaults (a thread prevalent all the way to Verdi’s “Forza del destino”, which also has strong Spanish influences). All this fits perfectly with Donna Elvira – a young, abandonded lover – who leaves her home and travels from Burgos to Sevilla on her own (we only learn in da Ponte of only a chambermaid she has taken along, a figure turned in an older nurse figure in the San Diego setting) and who enters the the stage with a passionate conviction to get back Giovanni, or else.
Bottom line: all the Donna Elviras should storm onstage for “Ah chi mi dice mai” in pants. And, possibly, a sword (unless it’s Cecilia Bartoli, who gives the impression she would rip out Giovanni’s heart with her bare hands no matter how she is dressed and armed. Which is just what Elvira proclaims in that aria). Because it makes sense historically, because it is practical
and because hnnng.
For a broader look at the San Diego concept (and, as a pointer in a context of Greek Soprano Syndrom fan service, its Donna Elvira): there’s a brief background teaser, for a glimpse of sword-wielding and bodily breaking apart Giovanni and Zerlina, and a longer feature with some insight into the development process and the staging ideas, focusing largely on the female characters and the singers stances on them (and yes. Stance).