Twenty-five years after playing the Vicomte de Valmont in “Dangerous Liaisons,” John Malkovich has signed on to play the fictional Ancien Régime seducer’s real-life Venetian counterpart. According to Screen Daily, he will star as the adventurer, libertine, and author Giacomo Casanova in the movie adaptation of the chamber-opera play “The Giacomo Variations.” Since its premiere in Vienna in January 2011, Malkovich has toured with the piece, a collaboration between the Austrian team of writer-director Michael Sturminger and conductor Martin Haselböck.
The play will be presented as part of the Cherry Orchard Festival at the New York City Center from May 30 through June 2. Malkovich, Sturminger, and Haselböck previously worked together on “The Infernal Comedy,” a play (which was videotaped) about the Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger.
Still searching for the meaning of life and rampantly philosophizing after suffering a stroke, Malkovich’s 70-year-old Casanova reminisces to the beautiful Countess Isabella, the sister of his host, Karl Emanuel Count von Waldstein. As he recalls one of his close friends, Lorenzo Da Ponte, excerpts are performed from the three Mozart operas — “Cosi fan tutte,” “Don Giovanni,” and “The Marriage of Figaro” — for which Da Ponte wrote the librettos. Haselböck conducts the Wiener Academy Chamber Orchestra’s live performances of these excerpts, which affords an unconventional musical approach, as the official synopsis explains:
“Giacomo…steps into the roles of Don Giovanni, Count Almaviva and Don Alfonso, but also of Figaro, Leporello and Guilielmo. Along with Mozart’s music his female partner transforms to be Donna Elvira, Susanna, Dorabella, Despina, Zerlina and Rosina. This creates the opportunity to present some of the most beautiful arias and duettos from the three Mozart/Da Ponte collaborations and causes, at certain points, situations where two [young opera] singers will have to sing up to six vocal parts. They will be forced to octavate, use falsetto and rely on the vocal skills of members of the orchestra and finally even on the actors, no matter what they may sound like. This sometimes quite unorthodox approach to Mozart’s music will have a humorous effect, but also, through a playful atmosphere, open an unconventional access to a number of central masterpieces of Mozart’s greatest opera scores.”
The Lithuanian star Ingeborg Dapkünaité (“Burnt by the Sun,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Hannibal Rising”) plays all of Casanova’s love interests. “This kaleidoscope has one key woman,” she told the Voice of Russia. “This is Countess Isabella, to whom Casanova recounts stories of his romantic conquests in a bid to impress her.
“This heroine has a historical prototype — a writer, who exposed another famous adventurer of the 17th century, Count Cagliostro, by writing a book about him. Throughout the play all women, by the accounts of the aging lover Casanova, vie for his love and affection, whereas Isabella comes to see the 70- year-old Casanova with a vested interest.”
“The Giacomo Versions” film is being produced by Amour Fou, the eclectic Vienna-Luxembourg production company, which received a $265,000 grant from the Vienna Film Fund in December.
There are trace elements of the play (probably coincidental) from Dennis Potter’s 1971 BBC miniseries “Casanova.” The first Potter drama made in a serial format, and in many ways prophetic of “The Singing Detective,” it starred Frank Finlay as Casanova tormentedly recalling his experiences in prison and latterly writing his memoirs as an old, dying man. It remains the best Casanova film, both more accessible and poignant than Federico Fellini’s hyperstylized, graphic, and unpitying 1976 “Fellini’s Casanova,” starring Donald Sutherland.
Image: Top: John Malkovich on stage in “The Giacomo Versions”/© Nathalie Bauer, Left: Frank Finlay in Dennis Potter’s “Casanova”/Still image via Youtube
Tags: Burnt by the Sun, Casanova, Dangerous Liaisons, Dennis Potter, Donald Sutherland, Fellini's Casanova, Frank Finlay, Graham Fuller, Hannibal Rising, Ingeborg Dapkünaité, John Malkovich, Martin Haselböck, Michael Sturminger, Mission: Impossible, The Giacomo Variations, The Infernal Comedy