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DON GIOVANNI – REVIEW OF 2019 ROYAL OPERA HOUSE REVIVAL

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The Royal Opera House Covent Garden has revived for the third time director Kasper Holten’s visually stunning and vocally superb 2014 production of Don Giovanni. It features vocal splendour from bassos Erwin Schrott and Roberto Tagliavini and magnificent soprano singing from Malin Bystrom and Myrto Papatanasiu. And it has hugely imaginative designs and use of lighting.

Schrott as Don Giovanni and Tagliavini are a well-matched pair with big, resonant voices and physical agility. They can change identities with a switch of a coat and a hat, and they give a marvellous performance as rascals, master and servant duellers, abusers and vocal marvels.

Malin Bystrom has a gorgeous, big voice and her performance as Donna Anna, the putative victim of Don Giovanni is second to none. I say putative because I am convinced that she was not assaulted by Don Giovanni at all. I state this on the information gleaned from the way Holten presents the opening scene.

In the first scene she comes out of her bedroom wearing a beautiful evening gown which means she just returned from a high society event. She is trying to prevent Don Giovanni from leaving her and not the opposite. Later she tells her fiancée Don Ottavio that Don Giovanni’s identity was concealed under a cloak and therefore she could not recognize him. We know that he had no cloak in fact and was fully visible.

In the end when she tells Ottavio  that she wants to wait a year before marrying him, it is for love of Don Giovanni and not for grieving for her father for whose death she is partly responsible. A fascinating portrayal of Donna Ann.

Myrto Papatanasiu sings Donna Elvira beautifully and with wonderful expressiveness. When she expresses her love and is not angry or vengeful, she is a woman in anguish, moving, lyrical, sometimes hopeful and always vocally wonderful. I had a problem with her failure to express her anger, indeed fury, when she declares her desire to be avenged on the treacherous Don Giovanni who seduced her and then abandoned her in a matter of days.  

Tenor Daniel Behle as Ottavio is a man of promises but no achievement. He wears a tuxedo in his first appearance which may mean he and Donna Anna just returned from the fancy gig. What does he do? He goes to bed and Donna Anna lets in a lusty visitor. Behle sings the gorgeous arias of the vacuous Don Ottavio very well.

The peasant couple of Zerlina (Louise Alder) and Masetto (Leon Kosavic) are a delight. She is wearing a bridal gown and tosses her flower to the guests and has no difficulty handling the oafish Masetto. She almost leaves him at the altar, comforts him after he is thrashed and always ends up on top. Lovely singing and acting. Masetto sings well but he  is dressed in a fine suit. I think he should look more rural but it is a small point.

The staging has exceptionally high production values. The set by Es Devlin consists of a cubic two-story structure with staircases in the centre. It is set on a revolving stage with moveable panels providing a great deal of flexibility.

Holten goes much further than that in his imaginative use of lighting and video projections. In the opening scene we see projected on the “house” hundreds of names. They are the women that Don Giovanni seduced around Europe. We will see the projection a few times as a reminder of Giovanni’s character.

The mostly black and white projections will be varied as when the Commendatore (Brindley Sherratt) is murdered and the set is bathed in red. There is continuous and intelligent use of various light effects and video projection that add immensely to the quality of the production. All is done without resort to melodramatics. There is not even a speaking statue of the Commendatore, only a bust which is broken to pieces and the guilt-ridden Donna Anna picks from the floor.

Hartmut Haenchen conducts the Royal Opera House Orchestra and Chorus for a marvellous evening at the opera.

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Don Giovanni by W. A. Mozart is being performed eight times between September 16 and October 10, 2019 on various dates at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, England. www.roh.org.uk