Vicious art as a warm-up for brutal sport? Super Sunday on the Vineyard offered exactly that.
First, the Capawock in Vineyard Haven served up a tough, bare knuckles Don Giovanni from the Salzburg Opera Festival, staged darkly and grimly in slick contemporary dress, with clubbings, kickings, shootings, intravenous drug use, ravished women running around in scanty underwear and messy oodles of blood from a bullet wound inflicted (during the overture) on the protagonist’s belly, which oozed and smeared on everybody over three hours, until his naughty nibs finally fell to hell.
Mozart! Whew! Now bring on Roethlisberger!
At Seasons in Oak Bluffs, the terrible yellow towels flapped furiously. Hysterical fans yelled up at the high-definition televisions for the Pittsburgh Steelers to destroy the spunky Arizona Cardinals.
Super Bowl XLIII! Behold the pageantry, America! Let the games and the commercials begin!
Despite the pregame publicity blitz and the annoying cavalcade of lackluster commercials, this year’s Super Bowl battle was one of the most dramatic and exciting in history, replete with bone-busting collisions, protracted scoring drives, gritty goal line stands, circus catches, flared tempers and a double dipsy-doodle touchdown climax which wrenched bookmakers’ guts around the country.
In the final seconds of the first half, Steelers linebacker James Harrison ran back an interception 100 yards for a game-altering heroism. Thick into the fray of the final quarter, Harrison was caught and penalized for pounding his fist mercilessly into a fallen Cardinal opponent’s spine, several seconds after the referee whistled the play dead.
Odd. In his nasty, unsportsmanlike foul, the frenzied Harrison used the same rabbit punch strokes seen earlier at the Capawock on the prostrate Leporello (Erwin Schrott) during act two of Don Giovanni.
Opera and football. Aggressive and cruel, lyrical and thrilling. When beamed dazzlingly on giant screens in high-def color, these oversized events make the heart race and the soul soar, especially on a Super Sunday that thrilled, exhausted and satisfied.
Capawock owner Buzzy Hall called Sunday’s special brace of events, “A tournament of love, then a tournament of sport.”
Accurate summary, but what really is the cathartic thrill in spending six hours on a Sunday afternoon watching humans brutally punish each other for their own selfish goals?
Art and sport: both noble (in the case of opera and football, epic) activities with large, ticket-buying audiences. Why do the fans pay the money?
The brutality of the Mozart production surprised me and enraged much of the Capawock (and the original Salzburg) audience. Director Claus Guth reads Don Giovanni’s character and demise as emblematic of the modern world. Hold the bubbly, fizzy Mozart, please.
Instead, Guth puts the post-modern wolf into Wolfgang and sets the entire opera in a bleak, decaying pine forest on a revolving stage, which turns all night as the wounded but insatiable Don Giovanni (sung and acted superbly by English baritone Christopher Maltman) wields a silver Glock 38, pursues buxom conquests, howls at the moon, takes an occasional hit of heroin, holds an impromptu picnic party at which he dons a Burger King crown, swigs Pilsner Urquel from an aluminum can, and finally collapses into an unmarked pit.
We are told by the libretto of the don’s magnificent palazzo, but we never see it. Rather, we are led by a brutish hoodlum of a Leporello (Erwin Schrott displays a comical assortment of nervous body and facial tics to complement his acting and resonating bass) round and round on a rugged wasteland. The scraggly, scrub pine landscape is bleak and barren, except for a dilapidated, galvanized-steel bus stop and a dented-up BMW sedan, in which the fiery Donna Anna (sung passionately by the gorgeous German soprano Annette Dasch) smokes a cigarette, while the loitering don finger paints a heart on her windshield.
Later, at the don’s al fresco ball, champagne is served in paper cups, the guests pop pills, toke out and contort in a rave-like trance, while the orchestra accompanies them, almost irrelevantly, with the opera’s magnificent, signature minuet.
Despite the gruesome depiction of our modern world — damned denizens treading a wasted terrain on a pony-less carousel — Mozart’s melodies and harmonies lift the entire experience. The mordant grimness of the events and the setting is ennobled by the purest of art. The singing — each aria and ensemble piece glitters with precision and texture — is superb and unforgettable, and coming from so rough a spacial context, soars with an even more magical purity.
But what binds the entire spectacle is the music and, quite frankly, the story. We all want to see this wounded, wily, seductive, incorrigible, seemingly un-killable rogue finally get his due, even though he’ll probably take a piece of us all into hell with him. Even if the trappings are crude and demeaning, it’s our world, and we recognize the mess we’ve made of it and of ourselves. Most importantly, we have the astounding music to make it somehow palatable, if not ennobling.
And after Don Giovanni led us to hell on Super Sunday, Ben Roethlisberger led us to victory.
Of course, the epic started months before Sunday’s coin toss and gripped us right through to Roethlisberger’s final knee bend. Savagery, trash talk, meanness in the pile-ups — that’s all part of the territory, of course. But Harrison’s 100-yard run-back, Santana Holmes’s game-winning end zone catch, Kurt Warner’s precision passing and Roethlisberger’s unbending will and clutch execution were spectacular. On a huge and magnificent panorama, we saw team commitment, imaginative strategy and pure grace, strength and courage. Above all, it was a gorgeous and powerful story, a legend occurring as it happened and now embedded by HD replays deeply into my (and the collective national) imagination.
What will Buzzy Hall’s Capawock offer next year to whet the Island’s appetite for the Super Bowl? I can wait to find out. I need at least a year to recover from this Super Sunday.
Dr. Gerry Yukevich is a practicing internist who lives in Vineyard Haven and contributes occasionally to the Gazette.