The Royal Opera – Kasper Holten’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni – Erwin Schrott, Roberto Tagliavini, Malin Byström, Myrtò Papatansiu; conducted by Hartmut Haenchen

Don Giovanni, K527 – Dramma giocoso in two Acts to a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte [sung in Italian, with English surtitles]

Don Giovanni – Erwin Schrott
Leporello – Roberto Tagliavini
Donna Anna – Malin Byström
Don Ottavio – Daniel Behle
Donna Elvira – Myrtò Papatansiu
Il Commendatore – Brindley Sherratt
Zerlina – Louise Alder
Masetto – Leon Košavić

Royal Opera Chorus

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Hartmut Haenchen

Kasper Holten – Director
Jack Furness – Revival Director
Es Devlin – Designer
Anja Vang Kragh – Costumes
Bruno Poet – Lighting
Signe Fabricius – Choreographer
Anne-Marie Sullivan – Revival Choreographer
Luke Halls – Video

Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers

Reviewed: 16 September, 2019
Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

The Royal Opera – Kasper Holten’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni (C) ROH 2019Photograph: Mark DouetIn Kasper Holten’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, the concept rather takes precedence over the opera’s dramatic thrust. Lists of the dissolute one’s victims are projected by video display upon the flat planes of the panelled set, and they recur throughout the performance, along with other abstract illuminated patterns (sometimes illustrating the sung words) as though the producers have only recently discovered such a technique and become fixated with it.

As an idea it hints at Giovanni’s obsession with clocking up scores of amorous conquests for the sake of mere numbers, as revealed in Leporello’s celebrated ‘Catalogue’ aria, but which also hurls him into a psychological vortex of never-ending hedonism and addiction (conveyed visually by the swirling projections of MC Escher-inspired geometric impossibilities during his ‘Champagne’ aria).

The Royal Opera – Kasper Holten’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni (C) ROH 2019Photograph: Mark DouetErwin Schrott ably distils that element of defensiveness and doubt on Giovanni’s part, which combines an outwardly quiet and apparently wily confidence. But underneath he communicates a layer of insecurity, drawing attention to the fact that the obsession with lists may, at some level, simply be a fantasy – after all, in Da Ponte’s drama itself, we never see Giovanni make any wholly successful seduction. By focusing on the psychological dimension, it makes better sense for this production to end at the sensational moment where Giovanni is dragged to Hell, as it did in its 2018 run. But in this fourth revival, it reverts to the strange compromise of the 2014 original, in which only the very last passage of the triumphal final scene is included, cutting its opening passage, albeit sung anonymously from offstage, Schrott’s Giovanni looks as confused – bathed in a clichéd aura of seemingly redemptive light – as the audience surely is.

The set is also influenced by Escher’s drawings in opening up to a two-storey labyrinth of staircases, doors, landings, and bannisters. In theory that ought to result in more dynamic choreography. But it merely serves to emphasise the otherwise two-dimensional plane upon which much of the action takes place in the front-most strip of the stage, and feels static and statuesque. Perhaps in some sense that is intended to make up for the appearance of the dead Commendatore as a spectre among the shadows created by the light projections (a bust of his head is also used momentarily, but not centrally) although even that effect would make more impact if the illuminations had not been used so extensively throughout the production up to that point. As such, Brindley Sherratt’s coolly non-sonorous Commendatore seems apt, whether deliberate or not.

The Royal Opera – Kasper Holten’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni (C) ROH 2019Photograph: Mark DouetThere is something curiously in the nature of a memorial in Hartmut Haenchen’s conducting – his interpretation is stately, even authoritative in its generally unrushed progress, though also leaden and lacking drama. With the harpsichord coming through prominently in some arias as well as the recitatives, the score is often rendered rather in the grander and more expansive manner of an opera seria (the more formal structural straightjacket from earlier decades in the eighteenth-century from which Mozart broke free). A vibrato-less performance also sounds oddly like the first, tentative wave of historically informed practice before period instruments or genuinely nuanced forms of articulation were cultivated.

The singers themselves are only partially successful in achieving a real Mozartean alacrity, given the musical parameters in which they are given perform. The comparative breadth of Haenchen’s interpretation plays to Malin Byström’s strengths as Donna Anna, with her powerful, dignified singing, as she holds her nerve against the murderous and lustful Giovanni. At a less intensely emotional level, a warm radiance obtains on the part both of Daniel Behle’s Don Ottavio and the orchestra in his two famous arias. Roberto Tagliavini possesses considerable vocal vigour as Leporello, but the character needs more of a musical twinkle-in-the-eye to convey some of the opera’s humour.

As Donna Elvira, Myrtò Papatansiu is marginally less robust than Byström, bringing out that character’s naïve vulnerability to Giovanni’s seductive tricks, compared with which Zerlina’s innocence is more knowing in Louise Alder’s account, as she later rises to some heights of vocal allure and ardour in her pair of notable arias. Her Masetto is made to sound lyrically ineffectual in Leon Košavić’s attractive portrayal.

In essence, this production is really rather washed out by all its lighting effects and apparent musical authenticity, rather than fruitfully illumined.

  • Further performances to October 3

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