sat 13/07/2024

Don Giovanni, Royal Opera review - laid-back Lothario | reviews, news & interviews

Don Giovanni, Royal Opera review - laid-back Lothario

Don Giovanni, Royal Opera review - laid-back Lothario

Revival cast variable, but Erwin Schrott delivers as the would-be seducer

Masked Ball, 'Don Giovanni' Act IAll images copyright ROH. Photographed by Mark Douet

Kasper Holten left a mixed bag of productions behind at Royal Opera when he left in 2017, but the best of them - though not all my colleagues on The Arts Desk have agreed - is this Don Giovanni, now back for its latest revival.

Visually, the production is stunning. The set (designer Es Devlin) is a full-sized house, onto which videos are projected (video designer Luke Halls). The house rotates, and the projections follow, a high-tech effect that manages to keep the eye tricked for the entire length of the opera. The two storeys of the house create a double-tier set. The action typically takes place below, while ghostly apparitions of the Don’s previous conquests float around in the floor above. As does the Commendatore (Brindley Sherrratt), who is an almost continuous presence. The set fills in well for almost every scene setting – only the graveyard requires a leap of imagination.Erwin Schrott as Don GiovanniRevival director Jack Furness has only made a few changes to the action. Most significantly, Mozart’s silly moralising Epilogue has been put back in. When it was omitted, in previous revivals, the dramatic conclusion had much more power, especially as visualised by Holten and his team. One consequence of the high-tech approach is that interactions between the characters can sometimes seem to be replaced with the light show, but the cast for this new revival makes a strong case for all their bonds and enmities.

Erwin Schrott (pictured above) is impressive as the Don. He takes a relaxed approach, suave and ingratiating, and only rarely creepy or lecherous. That sets the tone for the entire performance, which becomes more expansive, with the drama unfolding through the music, rather than the impulsive actions of the title character. Vocally, Schrott is ideal, his tone broad and unforced, with plenty of character and variety. His recitatives are particularly impressive, often with an intimate spoken quality, but always beautifully projected. Malin Byström and Erwin SchrottThe rest of the cast is serviceable, with only a few standout voices. Roberto Tagliavini has a good voice for Leporello and a suitably dishevelled stage presence. There is little slapstick in this production, so no acrobatics for him, but Tagliavini still convinces. Among the ladies, Malin Byström (pictured below, with Erwin Schrott) stands out as Donna Anna. She has a classic Mozart voice, crystal clear, with an elegant tone and excellent diction – luxury casting, here or anywhere. Myrtò Papatanasiu (a last-minute stand in) was less convincing as Donna Elvira, her tone shrill and her upper register insecure. Leon Košavić is a bit wet as Masetto, his voice bland and underpowered. But he blends well with Louise Alder, who is suitably pure of tone for the role of Zerlina. Brindley Sherratt is hollow-sounding as the Commendetore, but he is a suitably imposing presence in the final scene.

The orchestra seemed under-rehearsed, with some ensemble problems in the strings and a lot of splits from the horns. Conductor Hartmut Haenchen gave a broad, Romantic reading of the score, with enough drama to keep the story rolling, but little sense of urgency. That approach chimed with Erwin Schrott’s relaxed reading of the title role – charming and elegant, and only occasionally revealing the dark forces beneath.


Malin Byström has a classic Mozart voice, crystal clear with an elegant tone - luxury casting


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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Can't agree either with the statement that this was one of Holten's best - characters dwarfed by fidgety graphics, the usual suggestion these days that Don Giovanni has had ex with Donna Anna at the start - nor about the 'silly moralising episode'. It is musically glorious, it suggests life after trauma for the remaining characters, and it is consistent with Mozart's support for the good.

The review is incorrect about the return of the Epilogue. Holten’s substantial cut in the Epilogue is still in place, so that the other characters discussion of their futures is still missing. The inclusion of only the very last part of the Epilogue was always part of Holten’s dire production. I also agree with the other comment. While this has always been an excellent demonstration of what can be done with computer graphics now, as a production of Don Giovanni it has always been a non-starter, being neither dramatic nor comic, and requiring only that the singers make sure make sure that they are in the right place at the right time for the next projection, I also thought that Schrott’s charming seducer was ill-fitted to Holten’s konzept of the Don as a nihilist, and he often seemed constrained by the production. His singing was excellent though.

I'm curious about the fate of the Epilogue. When I saw Holten's infuriating production first time round, there was, as you say, only a cut version, sung behind the drop-curtain. I understood that second time around, even that had gone. Would be interested in the history of this debacle. My own feeling is that it's all great music and should all be there. Deborah Warner's Glyndebourne production made it work superbly - I remember teaching students who were all agin Life after the Descen to Hell until I showed them that, and it changed their minds.

Now that you mention it, the Epilogue might have been missing in its entirety when Holten's production was revived (I saw the original production and 1st revival as well as this latest incarnation), in which case, Holten's drastically shorn version of the Epilogue has been put back into the production. I'm with you, the Epilogue's music is wonderful, and it is an integral part of the opera, not some superfluous add-on; it should be included in its entirety.

I agree with those who have found the swirling, ever-changing projections intrusive and (to my way of thinking) rather insulting, as if the music and the drama were not sufficiently absorbing and arresting without our being bombarded with Sensations. My partner and I felt distracted throughout, rather than riveted to the action, as one would hope. I also thought there was something rather vulgar in the cynicism of making the women such hypocrites and pushovers. When Don G. serenades the maid, saying ‘come to the window’ so he can see her, etc., in this production she comes down stairs and strips naked. Really? And more seriously of course we have Donna Anna snogging with Don G. In full light, when she later maintains that a mysterious man, cloaked and in full darkness, has assaulted her. It’s good to make Don G. genuinely attractive — after all, the prince of darkness is a gentleman — but I see no corresponding need to degrade the women, Cosi is cynical, too, but in a light-hearted way, The cynicism of this production seemed nasty to me.

The take on Donna Anna - that she was lying and actually had sex with Don Giovanni before her father discovered them - is such a cliche now, especially among male directors. What I found so refreshing about Deborah Warner's take at Glyndebourne was that she took Donna Anna's youth and vulnerability at face value, making it clear that when a woman says no, she means no. There is no evidence in Mozart, Da Ponte or Tirso that she 'really wanted it', even if she does seem obsessed. To ward off rape and have the would-be rapist kill your father in quick succession is enough to make anyone unstable.

Nobody seems to mention how sleepy the conducting is. I will never now go to an opera conducted by Hartmut Haennchen. Listening tonight again on the radio brought back all my original dissatisfaction with the lack of drive drama & emotion conveyed when we saw the performance on 10th October. To play Mozart "beautifully" is just not enough.

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