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Don Giovanni – a Classic Revisited.
OK, perhaps you’ve seen Amadeus? You know at least SOME of the music in Don Giovanni then; for instance, the scene when the seducer Don Giovanni is invited to dinner by the man he’d killed earlier in the show and a statue comes to life on stage. I’ve always thought that there is something of an eighteenth-century soap opera feel about the storyline albeit with deep moral undertones.
While the corsets and wigs of the film work well in context, how can you translate that and the music into a contemporary stage show that makes the most of modern lighting techniques, videography and set design without losing the artistic integrity of the original?
I think Mozart would approve wholeheartedly of the Kasper Holten interpretation set in 19th-century Scandinavia currently showing at the Royal Opera House. Es Devlin’s apparently simple stage ‘house’ is transformed with brilliant lighting techniques, revolving to reveal a series of stairways worthy of Escher with doors on two levels. At one point, the house is ‘spray painted’ with the names of every woman on Don Giovanni’s list; later, blotches, cracks, and watermarks appear on the plasterwork. And, in the end, it’s a vivid crimson.
Then there’s the storyline itself, which seems timeless, though the social context has changed considerably from when I first saw this opera. In the ‘Me Too’ era the womanising behaviour of the main character is not something we’d find acceptable today. That perhaps explains in part why there’s a serious feel about this production which I don’t remember noticing before. While this is the third revival of this production at the Royal Opera House, I personally hadn’t seen it before – but remembered its predecessor for a remarkable final scene when Don Giovanni descends into hell in a semi-naked state and is silhouetted revelling at an orgy on ‘the other side’. The final scene this time was a far more sobering affair.
Vocals throughout the production were strong. I have a soft spot for the mischievous and flirtatious Zerlina, beautifully characterised here by Louise Alder and her husband Leon Kosavic was a great foil. Leporello, played by Roberto Tagliavini, was a robust and rich-voiced counter to Erwin Schott, playing Don Giovanni. Schott’s role oscillated from exuberant confidence to the tantrums of a spoilt child to a tortured anti-hero and his vocals built in intensity throughout the production becoming increasingly passionate and powerful.
Donna Anna played by Malin Bystrom was beautiful and seductive, managing to convey a pent-up sense of passion for Don Giovanni balanced with the propriety of her position. Her fiance Don Ottavio was totally credible as her ingenuous lover horrified by Don Giovanni’s behaviour.
Donna Elvira, played by Myrto Papatanasiu, had an edgy voice and characterised the role with almost stalker-like qualities. At times her vocals seemed just a little harsh, but she came into her own with ‘Mi tradi quell’alma ingrata’, a coloratura aria which requires the singer to move through a whole range of emotions to convey the intensity of her feelings about her former lover. Composed by Mozart at the express request of one of the original ‘Elviras’ Caterina Cavallieri, it’s technically demanding for both the singer and for the orchestra who played impeccably throughout.
It is the mark of a classic when a work can evolve so effectively through time. Don Giovanni premiered in Prague in 1787 but the topics raised in the opera are timeless, only our perception of what is socially acceptable changes. My companion for the evening was visiting Covent Garden for the first time and seeing her first full opera production. She was amazed by the vocals, the lack of any microphones and stunned by the sets. Most of all she wants to see more.
Whether you are an old hand or new to opera, this production is one worth catching and is showing until 10th October 2019. Please check our preview for more information about dates for this and other productions in the current season at the Royal Opera House.
Ticket prices start at under £30. It’s worth noting that the Opera House, like many theatres today, has a great seat viewing app, where you can get a good idea of your view from any seat in the house.
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