Don Giovanni, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, February 2014Posted on 2 February 2014
After his controversial Eugene Onegin in February last year, Kasper Holten has come out with a corker. This intriguing new production ends with Giovanni, a man defined by his conquests and interactions with others, condemned to the hell of being alone. The set went slowly blank as the writing on the walls disappeared, the auditorium brightened then darkened, and his enemies sang from the orchestra pit.
The audience cheered and stamped their approval as Mariusz Kwiecien stood centre stage, having given us a nuanced and vocally powerful performance. His portrayal of the Don started 11 years ago under Seiji Ozawa in Japan, and the cinema screening on February 12 will be his 100th. Here in Holten’s production he is a man still robustly assertive, but perhaps playing the game simply because it’s a game. There are hints that some of the action may be in Giovanni’s mind, as women he desires, like Donna Anna and Zerlina, later make unreasonable accusations.
There have been so many women, enough already at 2,065 according to Leporello’s Madamina aria, and video projections of over two thousand names appear on the front of the set, only to disappear for good as darkness slips down the wall at the end. This wall belongs to a huge cube containing two floors linked by stairways in Es Devlin’s set design, whose effect is subtly altered by Bruno Poet’s clever lighting and video designs by Luke Halls. Two examples will give the idea: when Giovanni sings his Finch’ han dal vino, inspiring the Act I party, he is framed by a doorway in mid-air while video projections whirl dizzyingly around him; and when the Commendatore appears, along with ghosts from Giovanni’s past, the sides of the cube shine in ominous juxtapositions of red, white and black. Wonderful Victorian costumes too, by Anja Vang Kragh, and the dress for Donna Anna is glorious.
The singing of that role by Malin Byström was breathtakingly good, dramatically lyrical and with body language to match. Yet nothing was overplayed, and that goes for the whole production, including the fine interactions between the Don and Leporello, expertly sung by Alex Esposito. Antonio Poli as Don Ottavio sang beautifully, with just the right note of plaintiveness when needed, and Véronique Gens exhibited wonderful technique as Donna Elvira. Two other delights of the performance were the lovely voice of British soprano Elizabeth Watts as Zerlina, and the powerful singing of Ukrainian bass Alexander Tsymbalyuk as the Commendatore.
Altogether a superbly musical cast under the direction of Nicola Luisotti whose enthusiasm gave a delightful lift to the lighter moments. Holten’s production too gave us a fine Mozartian lightness of being, and the amusing business with the hats for Giovanni and Leporello had an air of natural confusion and spontaneity. Oddly enough the production team attracted a smattering of boos … perhaps they objected to the hellish loneliness in which Giovanni finds himself at the end, but to me it all made excellent sense.
There are six further performances, the last on February 24, and a cinema screening on February 12 — for details click here.