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A `Don Giovanni' at odds with its locale. Sellars sets Mozart opera in a modern-day slum

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Peter Sellars has presented what he surely believes to be a thoroughly updated, contemporary viewpoint of Mozart's ``Don Giovanni'' - arguably the centerpiece of the PepsiCo SummerFare here. His production takes place in the squalor of some nameless (nevertheless very New York-like) Hispanic slum, populated by the street people of today.

Unfortunately, in trying to prove that this masterwork can speak to any and all generations, Mr. Sellars has overlaid the opera with visual and philosophical elements that do not fit very often with what Mozart and librettist Lorenzo da Ponte were trying to tell us.

Sellars continues to update the works he is staging, striving, for example, for sight gags that elicit instant titters without having much bearing on the characters or the action.

Furthermore, he has set his ``Don Giovanni'' in a dour, dank hole - a vision with hard edges and precious little ambivalence. And yet ambiguity wedded to ironic contrast is what makes ``Giovanni'' such a remarkable, profound, and unsettling work.

Is Sellars intentionally trying to alienate, to create a hostile environment under the pretext of challenging an audience? While he pays lip service to respect for Mozart in his copious notes/plot-synopsis/interpretation (without which a good deal of Sellars's imagery would be simply incomprehensible), the results too often speak of facile solutions to infinitely difficult problems.

Because this ``Giovanni'' transpires in a slum, we have squalor, darkness, and drugs as the dominant image of the evening. We are asked to forget about da Ponte's very explicit class structure throughout the libretto, and to forget Mozart's music - often sunny and cheerful in fascinating contrast to the less-sunny attitudes and plot devices. (Though this cast would have been better off singing the piece in English, the Sellars unfoldment would have appeared all the more at cross purposes had the audience been able to understand what everyone was singing about.)

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