The Greek National Opera has taken another big step in joining the company of major regional companies with its production of Don Giovanni. The stunning production by John Fulljames is being streamed around the world.
The production was intended to be performed live in the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre in Athens, but Covid-19 made that impossible. The production was filmed in December 2020 for distribution.
Fulljames is the director of the Royal Danish Opera and he has created an imaginative, and brilliant way of looking at Don Giovanni that is quite outstanding in every respect. The entire opera takes place in a modern hotel. We start in a hotel room with a commodious bed, and go to the corridor, the hotel lobby and other parts of the hotel. Imaginative? You bet.
We all know that the opera opens with a masked seducer trying to run away from the lovely Donna Anna. She pursues him and wants to know who he is, but he does not want to be recognized. She screams for help, her father the Commendatore comes out and Don Giovanni kills him.
Fulljames has a different idea. During the overture we see Don Giovanni and Donna Anna sleeping in a large bed in serious degrees of undress (the programme warns you that “the production contains nudity”). They are embracing each other in a state of post-coital bliss until woken brusquely. And they are not the only ones in the large bed!
Don Giovanni tries to get out of there, but Donna Anna chases him to the elevator clearly wanting more of what she just had. Our hero is not disguised at all, but he does kill her father and she is very distressed.
Donna Anna and we know that she knows who killed her father but when she sees Don Giovanni later, she says nothing about it. When she learns that he has had an affair with Donna Elvira and he betrayed her, suddenly, she recognizes his voice. She may seek revenge but Fulljames tells us that, like Donna Elvira, she is still in love with him.
Fulljames gives us a well-thought out, fascinating interpretation that contains numerous marvelous details about Don Giovanni, the three women of the opera and his perverse personality. And all of it fits in the backdrop of a hotel.
Baritone Tassis Christoyannis handles the role of Don Giovanni with aplomb and vocal resonance. This Don Giovanni has graying hair, a gray beard and is clearly not in his first blush of youth. (Christoyannis was born in 1967). His appetite for sexual conquest and his attraction to women has not diminished at all even after some 2000 seductions. His appetite for sex is not strictly heterosexual nor restricted to one partner at a time. The technical word for that is orgy and you may wish to see the production and provide your own termino;ogy.
His sidekick Leporello is a younger man (please get him a better wig) and is creditably sung by bass-baritone Tassos Apostolou.
Don Giovanni has splendid roles for three sopranos and the Greek National Opera has the vocal and acting talents of Vassiliki Karayanni as Donna Anna, Anna Stylianaki as Donna Elvira and Chrissa Maliamani as Zerlina. All three of them possess sexual zeal and magnetism for Don Giovanni. Karayanni’s Donna Anna is so drawn to Don Giovanni that she tells her fiancé Don Ottavio to take a year off from their marriage plans because she is grieving for her father. There may be truth in that but Fulljames tells us that she is still in love with Don Giovanni and that may be the reason for her action. This Donna Anna is one sexy and well-sung lady.
Donna Elvira in the hands of soprano Stylianaki shows her character’s anger, pain and love impeccably. We sympathize with her and enjoy her vocal splendour even if we do not understand her devotion to the treacherous scoundrel. Splendid performance.
Chrissa Maliamani’s Zerlina, dressed in a revealing wedding gown, is ready to give in to Giovanni’s irresistible lines and we understand his lust for her. She must talk her fiancé Masetto (Nikos Kotenidis) twice out of his well-deserved rage at her. When she tries to comfort the badly smashed up Masetto with her sexual allure (and it is considerable) she is some steps away from him and Don Giovanni is lurking in the background. Another interesting take by Fulljames.
Baritone Nikos Kotenidis makes the perfect doltish Masetto who does not stand a chance against Zerlina’s sexual magnetism even after being pummeled. Nice guys sometimes finish last, but we enjoy Kotenidis’s performance.
The Orchestra and Chorus of the GNO are conducted by Daniel Smith. The set designer is Dick Bird with costumes by Annemarie Woods and lighting by Fabiana Piccioli.
All in all, this is a marvelous and delightful production and to hell with Covid-19.
This is a co-production of the Greek National Opera with the Göteborg Opera of Sweden and the Royal Danish Opera. The cast is entirely Greek, but the creative team is from across Europe. The GNO managed to get an article about its activities in Opera News of New York and took a full-page ad on the back of Opera magazine. Covid-19 has thrown a huge monkey wrench in its plans, but it should not stop the rise of a Greek national opera company from becoming a major cultural institution in Europe.
Don Giovanni byWolfgang Mozart is being streamed by the Greek National Opera. For more information go to: https://www.nationalopera.gr/ or https://tv.nationalopera.gr/
The caption under the photo should be:
Tassis Christoyannis as Don Giovanni. Photo: Andreas Simopoulos